US reports ‘some progress,’ but distance to go at Iran talks in Vienna

A US official reported progress in clarifying the steps the US and Iran would need to take to come into compliance with nuclear pact

US negotiators, including Iran envoy Rob Malley, US Chargé d'Affaires to the IAEA Louis Bono, and advisor Jarrett Blanc, meet with Russian ambassador to IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov and Russian diplomats at the talks on restoring the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna on April 19. Photo tweeted by Amb. Ulyanov.

The United States today reported ‘some progress’ in clarifying the steps the U.S. and Iran would need to take to return to full compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal after six days of international talks in Vienna that wrapped up on Tuesday. But there are still disagreements to overcome, U.S. officials cautioned.

“We made some progress,” a senior State Department official, speaking not for attribution, told journalists on a background call tonight.

“But clarification does not mean consensus,” the official continued. “There are still disagreements, … some important ones.”

“We have made some progress; there is still distance to travel,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN today.

“But ultimately the United States is committed to returning to the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, on a compliance for compliance basis,” Sullivan added.

The senior State Department official said after this second round of Vienna consultations, the U.S. now has a better idea of what it would need to do to come into full compliance, and Iran has a better idea of what it would need to do.

The talks were businesslike, and productive, he said. “But there are still many differences that would need to be overcome.”

“We are not near the conclusion,” he added.

He said the United States delegation provided the Iranians, through intermediaries, “a number of examples of the kinds of sanctions we would need to lift in order to come back into compliance, and sanctions we would not need to lift.”

The most complicated part is a third category of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, the official said. He explained that from this category of sanctions, it still needs to be determined which were legitimately imposed, and which were not, but rather were deliberately imposed by the Trump administration with the avowed purpose of trying to hinder a successor administration from returning to the deal.

“On sequencing, there was not much of a discussion because we are still in the process of describing and detailing the steps both sides need to take,” the senior State Department official said.

He said he anticipated a “multi-round negotiation,” the next round of which is currently set to resume again in Vienna next week.