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The setting for the talks. Photo: EU Delegation in Vienna via Getty

During this week's nuclear talks in Vienna, the U.S. provided Iran with an outline of the sanctions it was prepared to remove as part of a mutual return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, a senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Iran has thus far demanded that the roughly 1,500 sanctions imposed by the Trump administration all be lifted, but the Biden administration says that's a non-starter.

  • The removal of the sanctions is highly politically charged in Congress. Israel and other U.S. partners in the Middle East are also very concerned.
  • Because Iran has refused to meet directly with the U.S., EU mediators presented Iran with the U.S. position on sanctions.

Breaking it down: The U.S. broke the sanctions into three categories:

  • Nuclear-related sanctions the U.S. must remove to return to full compliance.
  • Non-nuclear sanctions the U.S. does not need to remove.
  • Sanctions imposed by the Trump administration under a non-nuclear pretext, but which the Biden administration believes were only meant to obstruct a return to the nuclear deal.
  • The U.S. told Iran it will need to review all the sanctions in the third category to determine whether they were warranted or could be lifted.

Another issue discussed in the talks was the sequencing of the steps Iran and the U.S. would have to take.

  • The State Department official said the U.S. made clear to Iran it will not agree to remove all sanctions before Iran takes any action at all.

What they're saying: Some progress was made in Vienna, but not enough to change the picture dramatically from one week ago, the official said.

  • “We have more clarity about what the U.S. needs to do to go back to full compliance with the JCPOA and Iran knows better what it needs to do to go back to full compliance," the official said.
  • But clarity doesn’t mean consensus, the official said, and there's still a long way to go.

What’s next: The State Department official didn’t rule out the possibility of getting a deal by mid-May. He stressed that the U.S. wants to get to an agreement as soon as possible, but not at the expense of getting an appropriate deal.

Go deeper

Apr 20, 2021 - World

After nuclear talks, Iran's president says deal could be reached soon

Hassan Rouhani. Photo: Iranian Presidency Handout via Getty

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday, after another round of nuclear talks in Vienna, that an agreement can be reached in a short time if the U.S. acts with "honesty."

Why it matters: Rouhani’s optimism comes as representatives of Iran and other world powers, including the U.S., are about to start drafting a plan to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

Apr 21, 2021 - World

U.S.-Israel tensions build as Iran talks progress

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

As nuclear talks in Vienna enter a critical stage, the gaps and suspicions over Iran between the Israeli government and the Biden administration are growing.

Why it matters: Both sides want to avoid the kind of public fight that emerged during the negotiations over the 2015 deal. But in private, there's growing frustration on both sides about the lack of trust, coordination and transparency.

Scoop: U.S. ambassador refuses Kremlin push to leave Russia

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The United States ambassador to Russia is refusing to leave the country after the Kremlin "advised" him to return home following new Biden administration sanctions, two sources briefed on the situation tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Sullivan, a respected diplomat who President Biden has, so far, retained from the Trump era, is at the center of one of the most important early tests of Biden's resolve.