US Strikes Cautious Tone on Iran Nuclear Talks

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A US official has spoken in cautious terms about the prospect of a rapid return to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, as Washington and Tehran prepare for a third round of negotiations in Vienna next week. "We're not near the conclusion of these negotiations. The outcome is still uncertain," a senior State Department official said. "We've made some progress. The talks have been businesslike, productive. But with still many differences that would need to be overcome." The official struck a more reserved tone than Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said on on Monday that talks had "progressed about 60, 70%" (IOD Apr.20'21). US officials have presented Iran with examples of the kinds of sanctions it would lift to reenter the nuclear agreement, which is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the State Department official said. Under the JCPOA, Washington lifted sanctions that restricted Iran's oil exports in exchange for Tehran accepting controls on its nuclear program. Iran's oil output rose to nearly 4 million barrels per day before former President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018. The US subsequently ended all waivers for importers of Iranian oil in May 2019. Iran has since ratcheted up its nuclear activity, most recently pledging to increase uranium enrichment to near weapons-grade after an alleged Israeli attack on its enrichment facility in Natanz. The US official ruled out the idea of an intermediate deal before either side fully complies with the JCPOA, saying instead that negotiations are now focused on "full compliance for full compliance." He also pushed back against the idea that the US would offer Iran a guarantee that a future president won't reimpose sanctions. "There is no such thing as a guarantee," the official said. "We have made that clear to Iran. It's not something the US can or will give." Emily Meredith, Washington

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