Iran has indicated that it will not return to talks aimed at a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal until after a new government headed by President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office next month, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The United States and its European partners had been awaiting word from Iran on when it was prepared to hold a seventh round of negotiations in Vienna. Talks began in April among signatories of the agreement, with Britain, France and Germany serving as U.S. go-betweens with Iran, which has refused direct contact with the Americans.
Russia and China also are signatories of the deal, which President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from in 2018.
In recent weeks, U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue, have voiced impatience with the pace of the negotiations, saying they could not go on “indefinitely.” Among their concerns has been the steady Iranian expansion of its nuclear program beyond the agreement’s confines, all of which, Iran said, could be reversed once the United States agreed to lift the harsh Trump-imposed sanctions that have crippled its economy.
In the original deal signed during the Obama administration, Iran agreed to limit the quantity and quality of its uranium enrichment and accept strong international monitoring and verification in exchange for the removal of nuclear-related sanctions.
Although the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran was complying, Trump left the agreement and began a “maximum pressure” campaign that he said would ensure that Iran would not build a nuclear weapon, something Tehran has always denied was its goal.
President Biden campaigned on a pledge to return to the terms of the original agreement, saying it had successfully contained Iran. Under Trump’s policy, the administration has said, Iran’s “breakout time” — the amount of time it would take to produce enough highly enriched fissile material for one nuclear weapon — has decreased from about a year under the agreement to only a few months.
Both sides have said there has been progress in the talks, with Iran delineating the nuclear retreat it is prepared to make and the administration indicating the sanctions it is prepared to lift. Among the major hurdles to making a final agreement has been Iran’s insistence of a guarantee that no future U.S. administration will again leave the deal, as well as U.S. and European demands that it include a new Iranian commitment to follow-on talks about its other weapons programs, proxy wars in the region and human rights.
There is strong political opposition to reaching an accommodation in both the United States and Iran.
The administration and European allies initially hoped to finalize a deal under the outgoing Iranian government of President Hassan Rouhani, considered a relative moderate, before last month’s presidential election. Once that did not happen, their fallback was a deal in the interim between the election and Raisi’s assumption of the presidency and the formation of a government in August.
With the Iranian position communicated through third parties Wednesday, it is unclear when another negotiating round might be scheduled.