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Indirect Talks Between The U.S. And Iran Begin To Revive 2015 Nuclear Deal

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The U.S. and Iran have begun indirect talks in Vienna. The goal is to salvage the nuclear deal that the Trump administration left. Diplomats from countries still in the deal are shuttling between U.S. and Iranian officials, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In diplomacy, agreeing to meet again is a sign of progress. And judging from that, diplomats in Vienna are having some success. Iran called today's meetings constructive and said the next meeting will be on Friday. State Department spokesperson Ned Price describes the diplomacy as a healthy step forward, saying working groups are now trying to hammer out concrete steps that both Iran and the U.S. can take to get back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

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NED PRICE: We hope that we are able to leave Vienna with a better understanding of a roadmap for how we get to that end state - mutual compliance.

KELEMEN: For the U.S. to get back into compliance, it would have to stop blocking Iranian business with other countries, especially the oil sales that are critical to Iran's economy. For Iran, it would mean dismantling centrifuges that are now enriching uranium beyond levels allowed under the deal and allowing inspectors more access again. Since Trump left the deal in 2018, Iran has argued that the U.S. should act first and lift all sanctions. Price calls that a nonstarter.

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PRICE: Maximalist demands are not going to get us anywhere.

KELEMEN: He says U.S. envoy Rob Malley has a flexible schedule and will remain in Vienna as long as needed. Kelsey Davenport of the Washington-based Arms Control Association says time is not on anyone's side. Iran is gaining knowledge by working on advanced centrifuges, and that knowledge can't be reversed.

KELSEY DAVENPORT: There's an element of irreversibility here on both sides. I mean, Iran cannot get back the, you know, nearly three years that U.S. sanctions have been reimposed, the economic losses that it sustained because of the Trump administration's irresponsible maximum pressure campaign just like, you know, on the Iranian side, you know, we can't reverse that knowledge on the advanced centrifuges and some of the research and development.

KELEMEN: Critics of the Iran deal favored Trump's maximum pressure campaign and argue that the Biden administration is easing up too quickly. Biden officials say the deal was working and kept Americans safer before Trump left it.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAZEY EYES' "UNTITLED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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