MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: Iran signals willingness to hold direct nuclear talks with US

US Deputy Special Envoy for Iran Richard Nephew, who reportedly advocated a tougher posture in current talks, has resigned from US negotiation team, according to Wall Street Journal report.By  Damian Pachter ISRAEL HAYOM

– 1-25-2022 A senior member of the US team negotiating with Iran has left the role amid a report of differences of opinion on the way forward, as the urgency to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal intensifies.

A State Department official confirmed on Monday that Richard Nephew, US Deputy Special Envoy for Iran, is no longer on the negotiating team, but was still a State Department employee. The official did not give a reason for the change but said personnel moves were ‘very common’ a year into an administration.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that Nephew left after differences of opinion within the US negotiating team on Iran. The paper said he had advocated a tougher posture in the current negotiations.

The departure comes at a critical time as the United States and its European allies last week said there were just weeks to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Indirect talks between Iran and the United States resumed almost two months ago. Western diplomats have indicated they were hoping for a breakthrough over the next few weeks, but sharp differences remain. Iran has rejected any deadline imposed by Western powers.

Diplomats and analysts say the longer Iran remains outside the deal, the more nuclear expertise it will gain, shortening the time it might need to race to build a bomb if it chose to, thereby undermining the accord’s original purpose.

The State Department official said the withdrawal of former US President Donald Trump’s administration from the deal had left US President Joe Biden’s administration with a crisis.

“Working our way out of this crisis requires many difficult, closely balanced decisions, on which there can be reasonable disagreement … The senior-most levels of our government have given careful consideration to these choices, weighed multiple views, and settled on a policy,” the official said.

The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.

“We are prepared to meet directly. We have consistently held the position that it would be much more productive to engage with Iran directly on both JCPOA negotiations and on other issues,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

Price also said the United States had not made Iran’s release of four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement on reviving the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was “at best, an uncertain proposition.”

Iranian Americans, whose US citizenship is not recognized by Tehran, are often pawns between the two nations, now at odds over whether to revive the fraying 2015 pact under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

“We want to see these Americans … returned as soon as possible,” Price said. “It would not serve our purposes – it would not serve their purposes – to tie their fates to a proposition that … is uncertain at best.”

Iran on Monday signaled a willingness to engage directly with the United States in ongoing discussions over the nuclear deal with world powers if it is necessary to reach a good agreement, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

In 2018, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, banned any negotiations with the US saying negotiations with the US would harm Iran.

Earlier this month, however, Khamenei indirectly gave the green light to the Iranian negotiation team to talk with the US and said negotiating and interacting with the enemy does not mean surrender.

IRNA quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian as saying that “if we reach a stage in the negotiation process where the need for a good deal with a high guarantee is to have a dialogue with the Americans at some level, we will not ignore it.”