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The setting for the talks, in Vienna's Grand Hotel. Photo: EU Delegation in Vienna via Getty

This week's nuclear talks in Vienna "met expectations" but did not assuage U.S. doubts about Iran's willingness to negotiate in good faith over the 2015 nuclear deal, a senior State Department official told reporters on Friday.

The state of play: Iran refused to meet directly with the U.S. but held three days of talks with the nuclear deal's other signatories, while the U.S. — represented in Vienna by Iran envoy Rob Malley — communicated indirectly through envoys, primarily from the European Union.

  • The talks are expected to continue in a similar format starting the middle of next week, the State Department official said.

Why it matters: President Biden promised on the campaign trail to return to compliance with the deal by lifting sanctions if Iran reversed its breaches of the nuclear elements of the deal. The Vienna talks are the most significant step yet toward kickstarting that process.

  • Two working groups are now discussing the steps that both sides would have to take.
  • But the talks will be “heading toward an impasse” if Iran continues to insist that the U.S. lift all sanctions imposed on Iran under former President Trump, including those not linked to its nuclear program, the State Department official said.
  • Between the lines: The U.S. has said some of Trump's sanctions will stay on, while those that violate the deal or deprive Iran of the benefits it stood to gain from it will be lifted.
  • Another issue is sequencing, with Iran continuing to insist that the U.S. make the first move.

What they're saying: “The United States team put forward some very serious ideas, demonstrated a seriousness of purpose," the senior official said. "It remains to be seen whether that seriousness of purpose is matched by Iran."

  • As to Iran's refusal to meet directly, the official said: “We think it would be better if we could sit down with the Iranians. We’re not going to pay a price for that, so if they don’t want to meet with us, too bad.”

What to watch: Iran will hold its National Nuclear Technology Day on Saturday, which typically includes a new announcement on the nuclear program. Any news will offer a "clue into Iran’s thinking," the official said, and potentially "cast doubt on their intentions."

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.