May 16, 2021

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U.S. presented Iran roadmap on sanctions relief in Vienna talks

During this week’s nuclear talks in Vienna, the U.S. provided Iran with an outline of the sanctions it was prepared to remove as part of a mutual return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, a senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Iran has thus far demanded that the roughly 1,500 sanctions imposed by the Trump administration all be lifted, but the Biden administration says that’s a non-starter.

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  • The removal of the sanctions is highly politically charged in Congress. Israel and other U.S. partners in the Middle East are also very concerned.

  • Because Iran has refused to meet directly with the U.S., EU mediators presented Iran with the U.S. position on sanctions.

Breaking it down: The U.S. broke the sanctions into three categories:

  • Nuclear-related sanctions the U.S. must remove to return to full compliance.

  • Non-nuclear sanctions the U.S. does not need to remove.

  • Sanctions imposed by the Trump administration under a non-nuclear pretext, but which the Biden administration believes were only meant to obstruct a return to the nuclear deal.

  • The U.S. told Iran it will need to review all the sanctions in the third category to determine whether they were warranted or could be lifted.

Another issue discussed in the talks was the sequencing of the steps Iran and the U.S. would have to take.

What they’re saying: Some progress was made in Vienna, but not enough to change the picture dramatically from one week ago, the official said.

  • “We have more clarity about what the U.S. needs to do to go back to full compliance with the JCPOA and Iran knows better what it needs to do to go back to full compliance,” the official said.

  • But clarity doesn’t mean consensus, the official said, and there’s still a long way to go.

What’s next: The State Department official didn’t rule out the possibility of getting a deal by mid-May. He stressed that the U.S. wants to get to an agreement as soon as possible, but not at the expense of getting an appropriate deal.

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