Tehran is willing to engage in direct talks with Washington if negotiations to revive the Iranian nuclear deal reach an advanced stage that requires such dialogue, Iran’s foreign minister has said.
Hossein Amirabdollahian’s remarks on Monday came as United States officials have been urging direct negotiations to restore the 2015 accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“Reports saying that Iran and the US are directly negotiating with one another are untrue,” Amirabdollahian said during a news conference in the Iranian capital, Tehran.
“However, if we get to a stage where reaching a good deal with strong guarantees necessitates direct talks with the US, we will consider it.”
Iran had previously ruled out direct meetings with the US. Instead, the two sides have been negotiating indirectly in Vienna to revive the deal, which saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting international sanctions against its economy.
Later on Monday, US President Joe Biden’s administration reiterated its call for direct talks.
“Meeting directly would enable more efficient communication, which is urgently needed to swiftly reach an understanding on a mutual return to JCPOA compliance,” a Department of State spokesman told the AFP news agency.
Last month, Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran, told Al Jazeera that US diplomats are willing to meet their Iranian counterparts “at any time and any place”.
“We’re prepared to meet with them face to face,” Malley said. “We think it’s far superior to indirect negotiations. And we’re dealing with something this complex, with so much mistrust, with so much potential for misunderstanding.”
Former US President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the accord in 2018 and started a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions against Tehran, which responded by advancing its nuclear programme well beyond the limits set by the JCPOA.
Biden has pledged to restore the deal, but several rounds of talks in the Austrian capital have failed to secure a path back into the agreement so far.
The US administration says preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is one of its foreign policy priorities, but Tehran has denied it is seeking nuclear weapons.
Asked whether continuing indirect negotiations in Vienna could revive the JCPOA, Biden told reporters last week, “It’s not time to give up”.
“There is some progress being made. The P5+1 is on the same page. But it remains to be seen,” Biden said, referring to the original signatories to the deal: the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, UK, Russia, China and France – plus Germany.
Malley said on Sunday that while American diplomats are working to restore the nuclear agreement, they are also pushing for the release of four US citizens imprisoned in Iran whom the US views as hostages.
“I will say it is very hard for us to imagine getting back into the nuclear deal while four innocent Americans are being held hostage by Iran,” Malley told the Reuters news agency.
Tehran on Monday rejected linking the nuclear talks to the prisoners’ release.
“Iran has never accepted any preconditions … The US official’s comments on the release of US prisoners in Iran is for domestic use,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.
US officials have stressed that there is limited time to salvage the JCPOA, with Iran gaining irreversible nuclear expertise.
“If a deal is not reached in the next few weeks, Iran’s ongoing nuclear advances will make it impossible to return to the JCPOA,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week. “But right now, there’s still a window, a brief one, to bring those talks to a successful conclusion and address the remaining concerns of all sides.”