US says ‘encouraged’ by Iranian response to nuclear deal proposal

The US State Department says outstanding issues remain, and the Biden administration is still undertaking ‘consultations’.

The Biden administration has said it was “encouraged” that Iran appears to have dropped some of its demands in responding to a proposal to revive its nuclear deal, stressing that Washington is working to “quickly” secure a mutual return to compliance with the agreement.

US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Monday that the United States is formulating a response to Iran’s reply to the European Union-led proposal and will convey it after internal consultations and talks with allies.

Price suggested that Iran is no longer calling for the removal of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the US list of “foreign terrorist organizations” (FTO) – a request that had been explicitly rejected by US President Joe Biden.

“We are encouraged by the fact that Iran appears to have dropped some of its non-starter demands, such as lifting the FTO designation of the IRGC. But … there are still some outstanding issues that must be resolved, some gaps that must be bridged if we are able to get there,” Price said.

The 2015 multilateral pact, which was nixed by former US President Donald Trump, saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions on its economy.

Tehran has been advancing its nuclear programme since 2018 in response to a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions by Trump that the Biden administration continues to enforce.

Numerous rounds of indirect negotiations in Vienna and Doha between Tehran and Washington over the past 16 months have failed to secure a path back to the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

But earlier this month, the European Union presented what it has described as a “final text” to a renewed deal. Iran submitted a response to the draft last week, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has described as “reasonable“.

Still, Washington and Tehran once again traded accusations on Monday over which party is stalling a return to the agreement.

“What matters so far is [the] procrastination from the American side on offering a response,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanani told reporters on Monday.

For his part, Price said the EU proposal is based on a US-approved draft in March that the Iranians have not accepted, rejecting the notion that Washington is delaying the conclusion of JCPOA talks.

“Had there been a clean Iranian response, a clear ‘yes’ answer, I’m not sure that we would be in a ‘back and forth’ the way we are now,” Price told reporters.

The nuclear deal continues to face opposition from Republicans and some hawkish Democrats ahead of the crucial US midterm election in November, which will decide which party controls Congress over the next two years.

On Monday, Price defended the Biden administration’s push to rejoin the accord, calling the JCPOA “the most effective means” to address concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme.

“We have said since we first started down this road in the spring of last year that if Iran is prepared to fully implement its commitments under the 2015 deal, then we are prepared to do the same,” Price said.

Ahead of a visit to Israel in July, Biden did not rule out using force as a “last resort” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Tehran denies seeking one.

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