Iran says 'two issues' remain with US to restore nuclear deal

Two of Iran's four 'red lines' have not been met during negotiations, says foreign minister

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian speaks during a news conference in Moscow, Russia.  EPA / Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry
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Iran's foreign minister said on Wednesday that two issues remain with the US in paused negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

Iran has been engaged in direct talks in Vienna to revive the accord, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China directly. The US, which unilaterally pulled out of the deal in 2018, is participating indirectly.

“We had four issues as our red lines”, but “two issues have almost been resolved”, Hossein Amirabdollahian was quoted as saying on Wednesday by state news agency IRNA. He added that “two issues remain, including [an] economic guarantee".

He did not elaborate on the second issue.

“If the American side fulfils our two remaining demands today, we will be ready to go to Vienna tomorrow,” he said.

More than 10 months of negotiations had brought the parties close to renewing the accord.

But the talks were halted after Russia this month demanded guarantees that western sanctions imposed following its invasion of Ukraine would not damage its trade with Iran.

Mr Amirabdollahian's remarks come a day after his visit to Moscow, where his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov said Moscow had received the necessary guarantees from Washington on trade with Iran.

The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme to guarantee that Tehran could not develop a nuclear weapon — something it has always denied wanting to do.

But Washington's unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 under the president at the time, Donald Trump, and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.

During the talks in Vienna, Iran has repeatedly called for guarantees from the administration of US President Joe Biden that there will be no repeat of Mr Trump's pull-out.

Iranian and US delegations in Vienna do not communicate directly, but messages are passed through other participants and the EU, the talks' co-ordinator.

“We will continue to exchange our messages to the American side … through [the EU's] Enrique Mora,” Iran's foreign minister said.

The Vienna talks aim to return the US to the nuclear deal, including through the lifting of sanctions on Iran, and to ensure Tehran's full compliance with its commitments.

France on Wednesday said that concluding the talks was “urgent".

“We have taken note of Russia's position. Once again, we call on all parties to adopt a responsible approach and to make the necessary decisions in order to finalise the just and comprehensive agreement that is on the table,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

“It is critically urgent that a conclusion be reached.”

The comments come the same day as two British Iranians flew home after being released from years of detention in Iran and as the UK government confirmed it had paid a long-standing debt over a cancelled defence contract with Tehran

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori “will be reunited with their families and loved ones”, the UK's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Wednesday.

She also announced that Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian American who also holds British citizenship, has been released from prison “on furlough” to his home in Tehran.

During the nuclear talks in Vienna, Iranian and US officials have signalled that the two sides are indirectly discussing a possible prisoner exchange.

The countries have made prisoner swaps in the past and are currently known to hold four of each other's citizens.

Updated: March 16, 2022, 11:32 PM