U.S. Says Nuclear Deal 'Closer' After Iran Reply Deemed 'Reasonable' by EU

President Joe Biden's administration has signaled progress in the 16-month effort to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as all parties involved await the U.S. response to Iran's comments on the final text circulated by the European Union earlier this month.

The EU received Iran's comments last week. On Monday, Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security and the organization's top diplomat, described them as "reasonable," and said he was awaiting the U.S. response.

"I hope that this response allows us to end the negotiations," Borrell said. "That's my hope, but I cannot assure you that this will happen."

Hours later, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that the administration was still "seriously reviewing" the comments from Iran, while at the same "engaging with our partners, with the EU, with our European allies on the way ahead."

He also signaled that Tehran had appeared to have backed down from added demands, including the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

"We are encouraged by the fact that Iran appears to have dropped some of its nonstarter demands, such as lifting the FTO designation of the IRGC," Price said. "But as you've heard from us over the past couple days, there are still some outstanding issues that must be resolved, some gaps that must be bridged. And that's part of the reason why a deal is closer now than it was two weeks ago."

"But the outcome of these ongoing discussions still remains uncertain, as gaps do remain," he added. "President Biden in the end will only sign off on a deal that meets our core national security interests."

Declining to offer a timeline, Price said the U.S. side "will respond as soon as we have a response prepared, as soon as those consultations that we're undertaking internally as well as our close partners ... are completed."

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A man reads the Iranian newspaper Etemad, with a front page headline in Persian that reads, "The night of the end of the JCPOA," with cover photos of Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and his deputy and chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, in the capital Tehran on August 16. The European Union and United States said they were studying Iran's response to a "final" draft agreement on reviving a 2015 nuclear accord with major powers the EU presented at talks in Vienna. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

The nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was reached in 2015 by China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. The landmark accord, established as Biden served as vice president to then-President Barack Obama, lifted international sanctions against Iran in exchange for the Islamic Republic agreeing to severely curb its nuclear activities.

Obama's successor, former President Donald Trump, abandoned the agreement in 2018, reinstating economic restrictions against Iran that damaged its international trade ties. Tehran has since ramped up nuclear production, even as Iranian officials maintained they did not seek to build a nuclear bomb.

Biden set out to revive the JCPOA, sending delegations of U.S. officials to participate in indirect talks with Iran and direct talks with other remaining parties to the agreement in the Austrian capital of Vienna since April of last year.

Borrell's decision to put forth the final text two weeks ago came amid another apparent impasse in the wake of the ninth round of talks. His latest remarks on the content of the Iranian reply came days after Russia's lead negotiator also said he felt Iran's recommendations were within reason.

"This time more than ever we have a great chance to cross the finish line at the #ViennaTalks," Ulyanov tweeted Wednesday, "The final result depends on how the #US reacts to the last Iranian reasonable suggestions."

Asked by Newsweek why such a deal seemed more likely than ever, Ulyanov said at the time that this was "because the latest (and the last) Iranian drafting suggestions are not controversial."

"I have no reasons to believe that they can be unacceptable for the US," he added. "But let's see and keep our fingers crossed."

During a news conference Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani echoed his U.S. counterpart in saying that "progress" had been achieved in the latest efforts to revive the JCPOA, but that the endeavor could not be called "fruitful" until all issues had been agreed upon.

He said Iran had set out to achieve a deal with the aim of "securing national interests and realizing the interests of the government and the nation" and had responded to the EU's text "in a timely manner," meaning the ball was now in the U.S.' court.

Kanaani argued that, now, "the Americans are procrastinating and there is inaction from the European sides" when it came to the next steps for the JCPOA, a deal he said the U.S. and the EU needed more than Tehran did.

Newsweek has reached out to the embassies of France, Germany and the United Kingdom in Washington, D.C. for comment.

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.