A turning point in the dragging talks to try to salvage the Iran nuclear deal? Iran for the first time considered Monday to negotiate directly with the United States, which immediately said it was ready for these “urgent” discussions.
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“Currently Iran is not negotiating directly with the United States, but if during the negotiations we get to a point where reaching a good deal with strong safeguards requires some level of discussion with the United States , we will take it into consideration”, declared the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, during a conference broadcast on state television.
He acknowledged that “the American side” sends “messages in various ways whose objective is to have direct contact with Iran”.
So far, Tehran has refused any direct contact with Washington, believing that the enemy country should “change its attitude” and return to the 2015 agreement before considering talking to it without intermediaries.
So it’s a major shift.
It comes as both sides finally report “progress” in the talks being held in Vienna, even as Westerners warn they may be too late for a breakthrough.
“At the current rate of Iran’s nuclear advances, we have almost no time” to reach an agreement, US Foreign Minister Ned Price warned on Monday.
“We are ready to meet them directly”, he added, recalling that Washington has judged from the start that “it would be more productive”. According to him, “meeting directly would allow for more effective communication, which is urgently needed to quickly reach an agreement”.
“Possible” agreement on detainees
The 2015 agreement, concluded between Iran on the one hand and Germany, China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russia on the other hand, offered the Islamic Republic relief drastic international sanctions in exchange for an equally drastic limitation of its nuclear program, in order to guarantee that it did not seek to acquire the atomic bomb.
But in 2018, under the presidency of Donald Trump who considered it insufficient, the United States left the agreement and reinstated economic sanctions against Iran, which, in response, gradually freed itself from the restrictions imposed on its activities. nuclear.
Current US President Joe Biden wants to return to the agreement on condition that Tehran also renews its commitments.
Talks opened in April in Vienna, and resumed in the fall after a five-month break, to set this “mutual return” to music in the 2015 text.
But they take place between Tehran and the great powers still members of the agreement concluded in 2015, while the Americans participate in them indirectly without ever having met the Iranians so far. The European Union plays the mediator.
The United States has warned in recent days that the outcome is approaching.
“We have, I think, a handful of weeks to see if we can come back mutually in compliance with the agreement,” said US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken in mid-January. “Iran is getting closer and closer to the moment when it could produce, in a very, very short time, enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”
Same story on the European side, where a diplomat sets mid-February as the hour of truth, calling for an acceleration of discussions.
This could be achieved through direct negotiations.
Another sign of optimism, a spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Monday that it was “possible” to find an agreement on nuclear power, but also for the release of four American citizens detained in the Islamic Republic.
The spokesman was reacting to statements from Washington, which seemed to make a link between the two files.
“It’s very hard for us to imagine going back to the nuclear deal while four innocent people are being held hostage by Iran,” Ned Price said Monday. But he assured that there was “no direct or explicit link” between these negotiations, because the return in the 2015 agreement is “at best uncertain”, while the government of Joe Biden wants that “the return of these Americans be certain”.