Officials from Tehran and Washington will travel to Vienna next week as part of efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers, although they will not hold direct talks, diplomats said on Friday.
Even without face-to-face talks, which Tehran has ruled out, the presence of both of Iran and the United States in the Austrian capital would mark a step forward in efforts to bring all sides back into compliance with the accord.
The aim was to reach an agreement within two months, said a senior official with the European Union, the coordinator of the deal.
Former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to violate some of the pact’s nuclear restrictions. His successor Joe Biden wants to revive the accord, but Washington and Tehran have been at odds over who should take the first step.
“Iran and the US will be in the same town, but not the same room,” a European diplomatic source said. A Western diplomat said a shuttle diplomacy approach would be adopted.
The talks will seek to create negotiating lists of sanctions that the United States could lift and nuclear obligations Iran should meet, the EU official said.
Those lists “should marry at some point. In the end, we are approaching this in a parallel way. I do think we can do it in less than two months,” the official said.
He was speaking after Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain - all parties to the 2015 deal - held virtual talks on Friday to see how to progress.
“Aim: Rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter. “No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary,” he added.
An Iranian official said US Iran envoy Rob Malley and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan would be in Vienna, but insisted there would be no direct or indirect meetings between Iranian and American officials. US officials were not immediately available for comment.
“If we don’t get there in two months we will see what happens, but it will be definitely bad news,” the EU official said.
Under the accord, US and other economic sanctions on Tehran were removed in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program to make it harder to develop a nuclear weapon - an ambition Tehran denies.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was good that talks were resuming, but time was of the essence.
“An agreement that is once again fully respected would be a plus for security for the entire region and the best basis for talks on other important issues of regional stability,” he said in a statement.