Nuclear talks with Iran have made significant progress in the last week or so, but very tough issues remain, a senior US State Department official said Friday.
The US official, quoted by Reuters, said he hoped Iran's lead negotiator would return in the coming days to Vienna, where the talks are taking place, "with a positive view" but that even if he did, there were still difficult issues on the table.
"There's been significant progress over the last week or two," the US official told reporters on condition that he not be named. "But at the same time, it's important to note that very serious issues remain."
Iran’s official news website IRNA on Saturday drew attention to the “serious issues” in an unsigned article. While it said that no one is privy to the details of disagreements between Washington and Tehran, it is clear what Iran does NOT want.
IRNA elaborated that Tehran does not want a JCPOA+ type of a new agreement or any temporary deal.
A report by Reuters earlier this month said that a draft agreement is being shaped which points toward a step-by-step or sequenced approach starting with the release of some of Iran’s frozen funds in exchange for a five-percent cap on uranium enrichment by Iran. In the following weeks and months, the two sides take more steps to get closer to a final restoration of the JCPOA.
While the Western side in the Vienna talks did not deny the Reuters report, Iran rejected it as fake Western disinformation to influence the talks. IRNA’s reference to a “temporary deal” might be about a sequenced deal, which does not lift US sanctions in one step.
IRNA also said Iran does not want “implicit promises” and “verbal guarantees” in the negotiations, adding that mentioning what Tehran does not want, can shed light on the situation of the talks in Vienna.
This refers to Iran’s position since at least November insisting it wants an iron-clad guarantee by the United States that it would never renege on a new agreement, pointing to former president Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to withdraw from the JCPOA. The Biden Administration in response has said that it cannot constitutionally provide such a guarantee. A future US president can make his own decisions if the agreement is not a treaty ratified by the Senate.
The US official talking with media on Friday said a deal, if one can be reached, would in many ways track the terms of the original accord on Iran's levels of uranium enrichment, the stockpile of enriched uranium it may hold, and the numbers of centrifuges it may operate.
However, he left open the possibility of some modifications to account the additional sanctions that president Trump imposed on Iran in 2018 and the nuclear advances that Iran has since made.
"We hope that when Iran comes back, it comes back in with a pre-disposition to try to resolve this quickly," the official said, saying there were still disagreements "for which there is not a solution that's on the table."
He also declined to name the sticking points, as did IRNA, and would not be drawn into whether Washington had persuaded Tehran to agree to follow-on negotiations on its nuclear program, its development of ballistic missiles or support for regional proxies.
He also said there has not been any deal reached in separate negotiations about the release of four U.S. citizens whom the United States believes have been wrongfully detained by Iran.
With reporting by Reuters