Positive atmosphere, little progress in Iran nuclear talks

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Police officers stay in front of the 'Grand Hotel Wien' in Vienna, Austria, Friday, April 9, 2021 where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place. Diplomats meeting in Vienna assess progress of three days of talks aimed at bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

VIENNA – Nascent talks aimed at bringing the United States back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran broke Friday without any immediate signs of progress on the thorny issues dividing Washington and Tehran, but with delegates talking of a constructive atmosphere and resolving to continue the discussions.

Two working groups that have been meeting in Vienna since Tuesday to brainstorm ways to secure the lifting of American sanctions and Iran's return to compliance with the deal reported their initial progress to a joint commission of diplomats from the world powers that remain in the deal — France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted that participants had “noted with satisfaction the initial progress made.”

“The commission will reconvene next week in order to maintain the positive momentum,” he said.

The talks took place without the United States, which unilaterally left the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in 2018, under then-President Donald Trump. He embarked on a campaign of “maximum pressure” by restoring previous sanctions and adding new ones on Iran.

But an American delegation headed by the Biden administration’s special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, also has been in the Austrian capital this week. Representatives from the other world powers have been shuttling between the U.S. and the Iranians to facilitate indirect talks.

A senior State Department official said the overall atmosphere was “businesslike” and encouraging, but cautioned that the U.S. is waiting for Iran to show it is serious about responding to the sanctions relief the Biden administration might offer. The official was not authorized to discuss the negotiations by name and spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official said that in exchange for Iran's return to full compliance, the U.S. is prepared to lift all of the Trump-era sanctions that are “inconsistent” with the deal as well as sanctions that are “inconsistent with the benefits" that Iran expected to get from it.