Iran won't negotiate 'step-by-step' return to nuclear deal

The Iranian delegation would not negotiate with US officials "at any level".
The Iranian delegation would not negotiate with US officials "at any level".PHOTO: REUTERS

TEHERAN (BLOOMBERG) - Iran said it won't negotiate a step-by-step return to the nuclear deal, even with the prospects of indirect talks with the US next week to try to restore the 2015 accord.

"As has been clearly stated many times, there is no step-by-step plan being considered," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told the state-run Press TV on Saturday (April 3).

The comments came in response to a statement from the US State Department that officials will be present in Vienna during meetings scheduled for April 6 between Iran and the remaining world powers that participated in the deal.

"These remain early days, and we don't anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead. But we believe this is a healthy step forward," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Friday.

Those talks aim "to clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures", the European Union said after chairing a video conference on Friday with Iran, Russia, China, Germany, France and the UK.

The bloc will intensify "separate contacts" between the participants and the US, the EU added.

The Iranian delegation would not negotiate with US officials "at any level", Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said in a statement.

Teheran has repeatedly rebuffed direct talks with the Biden administration on reviving the accord, known as the JCPOA, that former President Donald Trump abandoned.

After Mr Trump withdrew from the agreement and stepped up sanctions, Iran breached some of the limits that it placed on its nuclear programme.

China on Friday called for the US to lift all "illegal" sanctions on Iran, saying the country's nuclear issue was at a "critical stage".

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying blamed Washington's unilateral exit from the Iran deal as the "root cause" of the problem, while saying China welcomes the return of the US.

"The definitive policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the lifting of all US sanctions," Mr Khatibzadeh said.

Russia's envoy to the UN's atomic agency, Mr Mikhail Ulyanov, wrote in a tweet: "The impression is that we are on the right track, but the way ahead will not be easy."

Mr Price told reporters on Thursday that Washington was ready to return to compliance with the 2015 agreement "consistent with" Iran doing the same, and said it has been exploring "the best way to achieve this, including through a series of mutual, initial steps".

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in March that his country was in "no hurry" to revive the nuclear deal and said US policy was doomed to fail unless sanctions against Iran were first removed.