Both Iran and the US have shown genuine interest in reaching an agreement amid a standoff over the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran agreed with world powers, the EU’s foreign policy chief said on Monday.
Josep Borrell said the talks in Vienna that are aimed at bringing the US back into the accord were moving forward and now focusing on specific issues.
“I think that both parties are really interested in reaching an agreement and they have been moving from general to more focused issues, which are clearly – on one side, sanctions lifting, and on the other side, nuclear implementation issues,” Mr Borrell said, referring to Iran and the US.
“I cannot go into details but I think that there is real goodwill from both parties to reach an agreement, and that’s good news,” he added after an online meeting with EU foreign ministers.
Mr Borrell said that his political director Enrique Mora, who is chairing the talks, had gone back to Vienna after returning to Brussels on Friday.
Last week, Mr Borrell spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the nuclear deal during his visit to Brussels and said he had also been in contact with Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif.
On Monday, Russian and Iranian officials said the meetings were making progress but warned a long-term solution remained distant.
Optimism is growing for a breakthrough in the deadlock after two weeks of negotiations between Iran and the remaining signatories to the accord – China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK.
A US delegation was also present in Vienna, but has not been dealing directly with Iran.
US President Joe Biden wants to return to the deal, from which his predecessor Donald Trump withdrew before he re-imposed heavy sanctions on Iran.
In response, Tehran has repeatedly broken the terms of the agreement and said it would only return once the US-imposed financial measures were lifted.
Mr Biden’s administration said it would do so when Iran returns to compliance.
Russia’s representative, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on Monday: “We can note with satisfaction that the negotiations entered the drafting stage.
“Practical solutions are still far away, but we have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps towards the goal.”
Expert groups are trying to resolve the two key issues, of rolling back the US sanctions and ensuring Iran stops violating the limits set out in the nuclear deal.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said there was “some progress in the talks, but it doesn't mean the resolution of differences”.
“We think the US administration knows better than anyone that Iran's actions are within the framework of the nuclear deal and they will be halted when the US lifts sanctions and we can verify that,” he told IRNA news agency.
Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s national security adviser, said the Vienna dialogue was constructive.
“What I will say is that the US is not going to lift sanctions unless we have clarity and confidence that Iran will fully return to compliance with its obligations under the deal,” he told Fox News.
Last week Tehran announced that it was producing uranium enriched to 60 per cent purity, taking it another step closer to the 90-per cent level that is needed for use in a nuclear weapon, and well above the limit allowed by the deal. It also blamed an attack on its Natanz nuclear facility on Israel.
Iran’s delegate to the Vienna talks struck a cautiously optimistic tone on Saturday and said "a new agreement is taking shape".
"We think that negotiations have reached a stage that the parties can start working on a joint text. The writing of the text can start, at least in the fields with a consensus," Abbas Araghchi said.
"There are still serious disagreements that must be reduced during future negotiations," he added.