In a first, Tehran says it is open to holding direct parleys with US to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, with Washington reiterating its preparedness "to meet directly" with Iranians.
Iran for the first time has said it is open to direct nuclear negotiations with the United States, which declared itself ready to hold talks "urgently" –– in a possible turning point in efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord.
"If during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule," said Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian on Monday.
A US State Department spokesperson reiterated after the Iranian comments that the United States is "prepared to meet directly."
"We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues," the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
"Given the pace of Iran's nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA," the official added.
Iran nuclear talks:— Negar Mortazavi نگار مرتضوی (@NegarMortazavi) January 25, 2022
Iranian foreign minister publicly floats the idea of direct talks with the United States and says Iran can be open to direct negotiations with Americans if it serves their interests. The US also says they are interested in direct talks. This is all positive.
Tehran has been engaged since last year in talks with the five other world powers still part of the agreement, which offered sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
After unilaterally withdrawing in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, Washington has been taking part indirectly in the Vienna negotiations, which seek to bring the United States back into the nuclear accord and ensure Iran returns to its commitments.
But Washington has said on multiple occasions it would prefer to hold direct talks, and on Monday Iran's foreign minister said his country would consider doing so if it proved the key to a "good agreement" to salvage the floundering deal.
Iran is currently negotiating directly with the deal's other signatories: Germany, France, China and Britain. The talks, which started last April, were suspended two months later as Iran elected ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, resuming in late November.
US-Iran ties have been severed since April 1980, just months after the fall of the shah and the occupation of the American embassy by students loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Relations worsened significantly after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal and reimposed biting economic sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back its own commitments.
Iran has previously stated that the United States must "change course" and return to the nuclear deal, prior to any direct talks.
Possible prisoner release
Earlier on Monday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said it was "possible" to reach an agreement on both the release of Iranian and US prisoners and the nuclear deal.
"They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time," spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters.
Khatibzadeh's comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who a day earlier said it was unlikely Washington would strike an agreement on the nuclear deal unless Tehran releases four of its citizens.
The four US citizens are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.
Washington also holds four Iranian nationals.
The two countries have released each other's citizens in the past.