Ayatollah Khamenei 'approves' direct US-Iran nuclear talks
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has reportedly given the green light to negotiators to enter face-to-face talks with the US on its nuclear programme.
Such a scenario would mark a major change in Iran-US relations. Relations between the two countries were frozen following the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 and US and Iranian officials have had little direct contact since.
The US and Iran have engaged in talks attempting to revive the 2015 nuclear accord, designed to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme and open its facilities to more extensive inspections in return for sanctions relief.
Sources in Iran, cited by the news website Amwaj, claimed that top negotiator Ali Bagheri could meet Brett McGurk, the White House Coordinator for the Middle East and Africa, in Oman in a matter of weeks.
The New Arab could not independently verify the report and approached the Iranian embassy but did not receive any reply. However, if confirmed the direct talks would mark a groundbreaking stage in relations between the two countries which have no formal diplomatic ties
Amwaj claimed talks have already been held in Europe this year between American and Iranian "thinkers" and former negotiators from both sides, who concluded that a "de-escalation of tensions" would be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, Bagheri said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he met with representatives of the UK, Germany, and France, known collectively as the E3 to discuss the revival of the nuclear deal last week.
Along with the US and Russia, the E3 countries were signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal.
"In follow-up of our previous meetings, I met with E3 political directors in New York. We discussed a range of issues of mutual interests, including negotiations on lifting sanctions on Iran," he said, likely referring to the recent UN General Assembly meeting.
Sources said direct talks could also pave the way for a critical meeting between Tehran and members of the UN Security Council, as well as Germany.
This would be key to reviving the landmark nuclear accord, abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018. Trump enforced crippling economic sanctions on Tehran and efforts to strike a new deal have so far been elusive.
Direct talks would also mark a huge policy shift for Iran's conservative Supreme Leader Khamenei, who in 2019 bluntly refused the White House’s invitation to enter into direct negotiations.
Indirect talks did take place in 2021 in the Austrian capital, Vienna with US and Iranian negotiators staying in different hotels to avoid direct communication but to little avail. Further negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha also yielded no results.
There appears to be little appetite among Washington's political circles for a return to the talks, following a brutal crackdown on Iranian protesters in Tehran and elsewhere by security forces last year, after the killing of Mahsa Amini.
Another hurdle is the Joe Biden administration's reported demand for modifications to the pact, which is officially known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Washington's Gulf allies and the US are also wary of the growing influence of Iran's growing influence in the region, although there has been a recent scaling down in conflicts involving Tehran proxies, including the war in Yemen.
Many US Republicans are also opposed to any new deal with Iran, claiming sanctions relief allowed Tehran to build an arsenal of missiles and meddle in the region.