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Progress on Iran nuke deal, but tough issues remain: US

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WASHINGTON: US State Department official said that progress has been made in negotiations toward reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but very tough problems remain.

“There’s been significant progress over the last week or two. We have significantly narrowed the areas that still need to be resolved. And so, in that sense, there has been progress that has been moving towards a potential deal,” he told reporters.

“So we are in a better position than we have been. But at the same time, it’s important to note that very serious issues remain.”

The negotiations aim to return to the original 2015 bargain. This would lift sanctions against Iran, including the ones that slashed its oil sales, in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities that extend the time Tehran would need to make enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb if it chose to.

Iran has long denied such ambition and said that its nuclear program is for solely peaceful purposes.

Iran’s lead negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani has gone back to Tehran, and the senior US official said he hopes Kani would return to the talks in Vienna in a positive frame of mind.

The US official also said that there has not been any deal reached in separate negotiations about the release of four US citizens believed to have been wrongfully detained by Iran.

During the negotiations in Vienna, Iran has repeatedly called for guarantees from the Biden administration that there will be no repeat of Trump’s 2018 walkout, something that partisan divisions on Iran policy have effectively precluded.

The 2015 deal set a 3.67 percent limit for Iran’s uranium enrichment, sufficient for its power generation needs although not for some other civilian uses, such as the production of medical isotopes.

Since Trump abandoned the agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions, Iran has responded by producing uranium enriched to 60 percent, a level that has sparked Western concern although it still falls short of weapons grade.

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