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Washington lifts sanctions on Iran

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The administration of President Joe Biden on Friday restored Iran’s exemption from sanctions, a senior State Department official said, as indirect talks between the United States and Iran on returning to the 2015 nuclear deal entered the final stage.

This exemption allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to carry out non-proliferation operations at Iranian nuclear sites. The United States canceled this exemption in 2019 and 2020 during the administration of former President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the nuclear agreement.

The indirect talks are aimed at returning the United States to the agreement and resuming Iran’s compliance with it. The agreement was reached under former President Barack Obama and Biden vowed to try to bring the United States back to him.

The State Department sent a report signed by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Congress explaining that reinstating the waiver would help talks in Vienna on returning to the agreement reached between Iran and a group of countries including China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the United States. The agreement is officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The report, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said that “the waiver related to these activities aims to facilitate discussions that would help in concluding an agreement on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and laying the groundwork for Iran’s return to fulfilling its commitments in the JCPOA.”

The report added that the waiver “is also intended to serve the interests of the United States in non-proliferation, nuclear security, and the imposition of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities.”

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The United States and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April with the aim of restoring the agreement that lifted sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

No official announcement was made regarding the start of the ninth round, but expectations increased that it could be held this week.

After Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and re-imposed severe sanctions, Iran gradually began to violate the nuclear restrictions stipulated in the agreement.

A US official told reporters on Monday that the recent talks in Vienna were “among the most intense to date.” He added that some progress had been made on narrowing differences and that it was time for political decisions.

A State Department official said the waiver was necessary to allow for the technical discussions that are essential to talks aimed at returning to the agreement, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

But the official said reinstating the waiver was not an indication that Washington was close to reaching an understanding to return to the deal.

Henry Roma, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said the reinstatement of the waiver was a “modest sign” of action.

“The waivers are not a goodwill gesture or a concession to Iran, but rather technical steps that may be aimed at ensuring the continuation of implementation discussions in Vienna,” he added.