Iran President Hassan Rouhani and head of the Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi at an exhibition on National Nuclear Technology Day, Tehran, April 10, 2021

The Biden Administration has signaled its willingness to ease some US sanctions, including against Iran’s oil and finance sectors, to advance talks over the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Trump Administration imposed the comprehensive measures on energy and finance in November 2018, six months after withdrawing from the agreement. Iran’s oil exports fell up to 95% from April 2018, before a partial recovery last year.

“People familiar with the matter” said the restrictions would be pulled back as discussions progress in Vienna with Iran, the European Union, and the other powers in the deal (UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia).

A “senior State Department official” told journalists that, in the indirect talks, the US delegation has presented “a number of examples of the kinds of sanctions we would need to lift in order to come back into compliance, and sanctions we would not need to lift”.

The official said of the second set of discussions this week.

We made some progress, but we’re not in a situation that’s radically different from where we were at the conclusion of round one….

What we did achieve is greater clarification. In other words, I think the United States has a better idea of what it will need to do to come back into full compliance with the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and Iran has a better idea of what it will need to do to come back into compliance with the JCPOA.

[But] clarification doesn’t necessarily mean consensus.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan echoed, in comments to CNN, “We have made some progress; there is still distance to travel….Ultimately the United States is committed to returning to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the Iran nuclear deal, on a compliance for compliance basis.”

Iran has publicly rejected the US emphasis on a “sequenced” approach.

President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday, “The first stage is the complete removal of sanctions, an onus on the US which has imposed such sanctions….The second step is verification, which will take place after the removal of the sanctions. The third step would be the return to the JCPOA commitments, which we will carry out.”

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The senior State Department official explained, “On sequencing, there was not much of a discussion [in Vienna] because we are still in the process of describing and detailing the steps both sides need to take….What we can say is that a sequence in which the U.S. does everything before Iran does nothing is not an acceptable sequence.”

He said a “multi-round negotiation” was likely, with the talks resuming in the Austrian capital next week.