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US sees possible progress in Iran nuclear talks

VIENNA/IRAN (AFP) – The United States (US) said it had seen possible progress in talks with Iran but joined European negotiators in pressing for urgency in rolling back Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Negotiations resumed Monday in Vienna in a fresh push to make headway on reviving a landmark 2015 agreement that curtailed Iran’s nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

“There may have been some modest progress,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.

“But it is in some ways too soon to say how substantive that progress may have been. At a minimum any progress, we believe, is falling short of Iran’s accelerating nuclear steps and is far too slow.”

Former US president Donald Trump in 2018 withdrew from the nuclear accord and imposed a slew of punishing sanctions, including a unilateral US ban on Iran selling its key export of oil.

US President Joe Biden supports a return to the agreement but Iran has kept taking steps away from compliance as it presses for sanctions relief.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani speaks to the press in Vienna. PHOTO: AFP

The Vienna talks began after Biden’s election but stopped in June as Iran elected a new ultraconservative government. They resumed in late November with Iran agreeing to keep talking after a brief break.

“This negotiation is urgent,” negotiators from Britain, France and Germany said in a statement.

“We are clear that we are nearing the point where Iran’s escalation of its nuclear programme will have completely hollowed out the JCPoA,” the so-called E3 powers said, referring to the deal’s official name by its acronym.

“That means we have weeks, not months, to conclude a deal before the JCPoA’s core non-proliferation benefits are lost.”

The Biden administration has warned of a return to pressure if talks fail and Iran pursues its nuclear work.

Iran was in compliance with the 2015 deal before Trump’s withdrawal but has since taken key steps including stepping up its enrichment of uranium, although it denies that it wants to acquire a nuclear arsenal.