By Parisa Hafezi and John Irish
DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) – Iran is ready to consider direct talks with the United States if it feels it can get a good deal with guarantees, its foreign minister said on Monday, adding no decision had yet been made.
Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal resumed almost two months ago.
Western diplomats have indicated they were hoping to have a breakthrough over the next few weeks, but sharp differences remain. Iran has rejected any deadline imposed by Western powers.
Iran refuses to directly meet U.S. officials, meaning other parties – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – must shuttle between the two sides.
“Reports saying that Iran and the U.S. are directly negotiating with one another are untrue,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told a news conference in Tehran. “However, if we get to a stage where reaching a good deal with strong guarantees necessitates direct talks with the U.S., we will consider it.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last year banned Iranian officials from holding talks with Washington.
A Western diplomatic source said Iran’s negotiating team had brought up the subject of direct talks during a recent return to Tehran for consultations.
The source said it was unclear whether Khamenei had given his green light yet, but negotiators felt direct contact would ease negotiations at this stage.
“We’ve heard nothing to that effect. We’d welcome it,” the United States’ Iran envoy Robert Malley told Reuters.
Iran earlier on Monday ruled out any U.S. preconditions for reviving a 2015 nuclear deal, including the release of American prisoners held by the Islamic Republic.
Malley said on Sunday the U.S. was unlikely to strike an agreement with Iran unless Tehran released four U.S. citizens Washington says it is holding hostage.
“Iran has never accepted any preconditions … The U.S. official’s comments on the release of U.S. prisoners in Iran is for domestic use,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday.
Iran has been in talks with world powers since April to reinstate the deal. In 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump ditched the agreement and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran, prompting Iran to gradually breach limits of the deal on its nuclear programme.
But after eight rounds of talks, the thorniest points remain the speed and scope of lifting sanctions on Tehran, including Iran’s demand for a U.S. guarantee of no further punitive steps, and how and when to restore curbs on Iran’s atomic work.
(Additional reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish; Editing by William Maclean, Chizu Nomiyama and Chris Reese)