Iran held a fourth round of high-level talks with world powers on May 7 aimed at returning the United States back into a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
The negotiations, which kicked off in Vienna in early April, are focused on creating a road map for Washington to lift sanctions on Iran and for Tehran to reinstate restrictions on its nuclear program that were laid out in the agreement.
Under the accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran had pledged to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. But former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the pact in May 2018, saying it needed to be renegotiated, and started reimposing sanctions on Iran.
Iran reacted by stepping up its violations of the accord by enriching uranium to a greater purity, stockpiling more than allowed, and introducing more advanced centrifuges.
Tehran also pushed the remaining parties in the deal -- France, Britain, Russia, and China -- for economic relief.
The deal is intended to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iranian officials have consistently denied Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear ambitions are purely for civilian purposes.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said he wants to rejoin the deal, but that Iran needs to return to compliance.
When asked at the White House on May 7 if he thought Tehran was serious about the talks in Vienna, Biden said: "Yes, but how serious, and what they are prepared to do is a different story. But we're still talking."
Earlier, Iranian state television quoted the country’s top negotiator as saying Washington had expressed its readiness to lift many of its sanctions, but that Tehran is demanding more.
"The information transferred to us from the U.S. side is that they are also serious on returning to the nuclear deal and they have so far declared their readiness to lift a great part of their sanctions," Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said.
"But this is not adequate from our point of view and therefore the discussions will continue until we get to all our demands.”
Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted that the delegations “agreed on the need to intensify the process” and “seem to be ready to stay in Vienna as long as necessary to achieve the goal.”
Alain Matton, a spokesperson for the EU delegation in Vienna, said the expert talks will continue in the coming days.
Because the United States is currently out of the deal, there is no American representation at the talks. Diplomats from the participating countries involved are shuttling between the Iranian side and a delegation from Washington elsewhere in Vienna.
On the eve of the latest round of talks, a senior U.S. administration official laid out all of the steps Washington is prepared to take in order to rejoin the nuclear deal.
The official, who spoke to reporters on a conference call on May 6, said Iran shouldn't expect major new concessions, and success or failure now depends on Iran making the political decision to accept those concessions and to return to compliance with the accord.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview it was unclear whether Iran is prepared to make the decisions necessary to return to full compliance with the agreement.
“They unfortunately have been continuing to take steps that are restarting dangerous parts of their program that the nuclear agreement stopped. And the jury is out on whether they’re prepared to do what’s necessary,” he said in an interview broadcast on May 6 on NBC.
Araqchi said after the third round of talks ended on May 1 that Tehran stands by its demand for the United States to lift sanctions across a range of sectors, including oil, banking, and most individuals and institutions.
In parallel with the nuclear talks, Iranian media reported last weekend that there was an agreement between Tehran and Washington for the release of prisoners held by each side.
Washington and London have dismissed or downplayed the reports, as well as others that have said the United States is considering unfreezing some Iranian assets.