The Biden administration is considering granting Iran significant economic sanctions relief, according to U.S. and Iranian officials, confirming that Iran is making headway in its demand that America unwind many of its most crippling measures.
Negotiations with Iran in Vienna are centered around the scope and scale of sanctions relief, a State Department spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon, confirming similar comments issued this week by Iranian officials. Iran is pushing the Biden administration to nix nearly all of the sanctions applied by the former Trump administration, including those targeting the country’s nuclear program, terrorism operations, banks, and oil trade. The Biden administration says it is willing to lift all sanctions necessary for America to make a full return to the original nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which provided Iran with billions in cash assets.
"The United States would be prepared to lift the sanctions necessary for our JCPOA compliance only if Iran is prepared to return its nuclear program to its JCPOA status, including with respect to the level and scale of its uranium enrichment activities," a State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon. Iran is violating the JCPOA by enriching uranium, the primary fuel in a nuclear weapon, to levels far exceeding restrictions written into the original accord.
Sanctions have been the primary sticking point in negotiations, as Iran pushes for the United States to unilaterally unwind every sanction that has stifled the country’s economy and brought the hardline regime closer to bankruptcy than ever before. Iranian officials indicated on Wednesday the United States is giving up ground in the talks, as Iran demands that former president Donald Trump’s "maximum pressure" campaign be canceled.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh dismissed rumors the Biden administration is angling to keep many of the most stringent sanctions in place. "Not only are these cases and allegations like this wrong, but everyone knows for sure that if the United States had insisted on such things, the talks would have stopped by now," Khatibzadeh said, hinting that the sides could be more closely aligned than thought.
The State Department told the Free Beacon that sanctions relief is prominently on the table. "The team continues to explore and discuss issues and options vis-à-vis sanctions relief," the spokesman said. Both sides, however, still remain far from a deal in the administration’s view.
"Some progress has been made, but we are neither dragging our feet nor speeding things up," the official said. "The talks will continue at a pace appropriate to address the significance of the issues being negotiated."
Pressed on which specific sanctions the United States would be willing to unwind, the spokesman said it remains an open question: "The precise nature of the sanctions-related steps that the United States would need to take to achieve this objective is a subject of the talks."
Iranian officials also say they are not rushing into an agreement with the United States. Tehran will only stop its pursuit of a nuclear weapon if America concedes the sanctions issue.
"If the White House insists on such things [as maintaining sanctions], the talks will come to a halt," Khatibzadeh said. "There are many differences between Iran and the United States in Vienna."
Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who specializes in Iran, said that "by asking for more and leaking that there’s potential to get more, the Iranians are signaling several things."
The Iranians are adept at using "the information space against the U.S.," strategically leaking information from the talks in order to create pressure, Taleblu explained. Iran also believes that "given the signals the Biden team has sent that there really is no appetite, no interest, no resolve for a longer, stronger deal, these appear to be ornamental statements U.S. officials seem to be making" about maintaining sanctions.
"Because the Iranians understand the Biden team has multiple, conflicting foreign policy priorities, they are pushing the pedal to the metal in asking for more and trying to get more," Taleblu said.