The US State Department has implicitly rejected the idea of any new demands by Iran, saying nuclear negotiations should resume “precisely where they left off.”
Indirect nuclear talks that the Biden Administration started in April in Vienna with Iran stopped in June when Tehran arguing that its new president needed time to form a government suspended participation.
There have been references by Iran’s foreign minister and other officials that Washington must “take concrete steps” or “show goodwill” for the negotiation to resume and succeed. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian even said in early October that while in New York the previous month he had told intermediaries the US should unfreeze $10 billion of Iran’s blocked funds.
Spokesperson Ned Price who was answering a question from a reporter during his press briefing on Friday said that the United States and other world powers are “united in the belief that diplomacy continues to provide the most effective pathway to verifiably and permanently prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and we are united in the belief that negotiations should resume in Vienna as soon as possible and that they should resume precisely where they left off after the sixth round.”
By rejecting the idea of new demands or changes to the process, Price also used the words “permanently prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” The existing nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, has sunset clauses which end in the next few years, theoretically allowing Iran to pursue its nuclear program as it wishes. Critics have always said this constitutes the agreement’s main weakness.
It is not clear if the reference to ‘permanently’ means other, more stringent arrangements have been discussed in Vienna. Those who opposed Biden’s decision to negotiate a return to the JCPOA have been arguing that even if the deal is restored and Iran resumes compliance with its restrictions, in a few years most would go away, and it can do what it wishes.
Price was also asked if a discussion that took place earlier this month between US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley and a South Korean diplomat signaled a move to have Seoul free Iran’s $7 billion frozen by two of its banks. If true, this would have meant that Washington was trying to entice Tehran to return to the talks.
Price did not directly address the issue of the frozen funds and argued that Malley is always in touch with US allies, and South Koreans “are important across a range of fronts, and that includes Iran.” He added, “That includes with the enforcement of the sanctions regime that continues to be in place on Iran unless and until there is a negotiated return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
But South Korea has never been involved with the JCPOA except as an oil customer of Iran that stopped doing business once US sanctions were imposed and froze $7 billion it owed Iran.