“The question still remains about whether the seriousness of purpose and the intent of coming back into compliance that the U.S. showed will be reciprocated by Iran,” the senior State Department official said in a conference call with reporters. “We saw some signs of it, but certainly not enough.“
The talks between the U.S. and Iran, being conducted indirectly in Vienna using European intermediaries, were paused Friday as teams from both sides return to their capitals for consultations. The discussions are slated to resume next week, with key issues of what each country must do, and in what order, still unresolved.
The 2015 deal was negotiated under former President Barack Obama’s administration, and it involved several countries as well as assistance from the European Union and the United Nations. It lifted an array of U.S. and international nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in exchange for severe curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program.
In 2018, citing many of the complaints critics level at the deal today, Trump walked away from it. He reimposed the sanctions lifted under the agreement as well as tacked on new ones. Over time, Iran, in retaliation, began resuming some of its nuclear activities, including enriching uranium to 20 percent purity.
The team President Joe Biden dispatched to Vienna, led by special envoy Rob Malley, has been looking at various options for returning to the agreement, which is often referred to as the JCPOA based on its official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Malley’s team has been sifting through the numerous sanctions imposed and re-imposed on Iran during the Trump years. While many of the sanctions are clearly aimed at Iran’s nuclear program, Trump aides intentionally categorized others as falling under other headings, such as punishing Iran over its human rights record, its support for terrorism or its ballistic missile program. The Biden team has to decide which sanctions it believes were legitimately categorized, and should be kept, and which ones were a veiled attempt to sanction Iran over its nuclear program, and should be lifted if the U.S. returns to the deal.
The senior State Department official pointed out that the original nuclear deal allowed the United States to sanction Iran on grounds that were not nuclear-related. If the Biden team decides that a Trump era sanction was legitimately imposed on those other grounds, it is not bound to lift the sanction.
“There are some that are legitimate sanctions even under a very fair reading, scrupulous reading“ of the deal, the senior State Department official said, declining to offer specifics.
On Friday, Zarif tweeted: “All Trump sanctions were anti-JCPOA & must be removed — w/o distinction between arbitrary designations.” The senior State Department official said the tweet was unhelpful and suggested that the Iranians were not serious about reviving the deal.
Zarif also tweeted that the United States must take the first step by removing sanctions, because it caused the crisis when Trump left the deal. He added that Iran will make its moves after “rapid verification,” an apparent reference to Iran checking to see if the sanctions removal has taken effect.
Thanks to the existence of organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are ways to verify that Iran has stopped its nuclear activities. But Iranian officials haven’t laid out what would suffice for them when it comes to verifying the sanctions lifting. Depending on what exactly the Iranians mean, that could get tough, especially if Tehran is seeking proof that lifting the sanctions is having an effect on its economy.
“We don’t know exactly what they mean” on sanctions verification, the senior State Department official said. “We’d welcome more details on precisely what they have in mind.”
Ali Vaez, a top Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group who has contacts on both the U.S. and Iranian sides, said the…