Iranian officials and media affiliated with the IRGC are saying that Tehran is prepared to hold direct talks with the US if "a good agreement" is within reach.
Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council appeared to be endorsing direct talks in a tweet Tuesday. "Contact with the American delegation in Vienna has been through informal written exchanges, and there was no need, and will be no need, for more contact, so far," he wrote but added that this communication method could only be replaced by other methods when a "good agreement is within reach".
Shamkhani's tweet mirrored Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian's remarks in an address to the first National Conference of Iran and Neighbors in Tehran Monday where he dismissed social media reports of direct negotiations with the US but said the necessity of direct talks would not be "overlooked" if a "good deal with strong guarantees" was within reach in the process of negotiations.
Amir-Abdollahian said the US has been sending messages to Iran through various channels asking for "a certain level of direct talks" and appeared to be suggesting that the time to decide was drawing near quickly. "Our talks are approaching a point where technical negotiations will be completed, in not too far future, and we need to make a political decision."
However, a Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity told Iran International Tuesday that in the current circumstances there is very little chance of direct talks between Iran and the United States. Commenting on Amir-Abdollahian's remarks Monday, the diplomat said this could change the situation and pave the way for direct talks if the Iranian foreign minister's remarks were announcement of a new approach.
"Direct Talks on Condition of a Good Agreement with Strong Guarantees" was printed on the frontpage of the IRGC-affiliated Javan newspaper Tuesday with Amir-Abdollahian's photo. Referring to Amir-Abdollahian's remarks about "completion of technical negotiations in not so far in the future" and the necessity of "making a political decision" at that point, the website said this was the key point in his statement on Monday. "Iran is not afraid of holding direct talks with the US if it is assured that the outcome of this political decision is a 'a good agreement with strong guarantees'," Javan wrote.
Referring to Amir-Abdollahian's remarks, the Russian envoy to the talks Mikhail Ulyanov,in a tweet Monday said direct talks at advanced stage of the Vienna talks "might be useful". Ulyanov who has held some separate meetings with Malley in Vienna has on several occasions complained about lack of direct communication between Iran and the US.
The US State Department on Monday reiterated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues. “We are prepared to meet directly. We have consistently held the position that it would be much more productive to engage with Iran directly on both JCPOA negotiations and on other issues,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday.
"Meeting directly would enable more efficient communication, which is urgently needed to swiftly reach an understanding on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA," Price added.
The Western diplomat who spoke to Iran International also said that the departure of three members of the US negotiation team, including the deputy special envoy for Iran Richard Nephew, from the talks did not necessarily mean Washington had changed its approach over direct talks with Tehran.
The Wall Street Journal in a report Monday said sources close to the US negotiation team have stated that Nephew, an architect of previous economic sanctions on Iran, and two other members of the team have left due to disagreements over Malley's soft posture towards Tehran in the current negotiations.
Among the issues that have divided the team are how firmly to enforce existing sanctions and whether to cut off negotiations as Iran drags them out while its nuclear program advances, the people familiar with the negotiations told the Wall Street Journal.