Iran has rejected an offer by the European Union to hold direct talks on a nuclear deal, potentially flaring up renewed tensions between Tehran and the bloc while further dragging out the negotiations on reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Last month, the EU proposed the idea of holding talks in a European capital as part of US President Joe Biden's efforts to return America, potentially, to the JCPOA. Former President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal three years ago and it has since largely broken down. The EU proposed Vienna or Brussels as possible locations for the talks.
Earlier in February, Iran also expressed interest in the EU helping to "synchronise" or "coordinate" such efforts between Tehran and Washington. The bloc would serve as a mediator by brokering a step-by-step process through which concessions would be made before Iranian and US officials talk face to face.
Over the weekend, however, Iran rejected the EU's offer of immediate direct talks. Foreign Ministry spokesman Saaed Khatibzadeh said that "Given the recent moves and positions of the US and the three European countries, the Islamic Republic doesn't assess the timing of an informal meeting proposed by the EU coordinator as appropriate."
Khatibzadeh added that "The path ahead is very clear: The US should end its illegal and unilateral sanctions and return to its JCPOA commitments."
According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited a senior official in the Biden administration, the US was disappointed by Iran's refusal and now plans to consult the other signatories of the JCPOA – Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China – on the next steps to be taken.
"It is unfortunate because that [the talks] could have happened quickly. That was what was on the table," explained the official. "We are not going to be dogmatic or sticklers for form. We want to make sure that whatever formal process is agreed upon is one that is going to be effective."
A spokeswoman for the White House was also reported to have said that, "While we are disappointed at Iran's response, we remain ready to reengage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments."
Despite Iran's refusal, analysts have not considered it to be a significant blow to the efforts to revive the nuclear deal. They point out that it is, rather, a diplomatic strategy used by Iran in its standoff with the US. Both countries have been waiting for the other side to make the first move regarding negotiations and concessions.
Senior Iran analyst at the New York-based consulting firm Eurasia Group, Henry Rome, told the Journal: "This is far from a death knell for negotiations. But Iran's decision underscores that reviving the deal will be messy… Washington and Tehran will zig and zag in efforts to build up leverage and handle their own domestic political considerations."