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Iran Likely To Soften Stance Against U.S. Upon Partial Lifting Of Sanctions 

Abbas Araqchi, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister, attends a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) attended by the E3+2 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom) and Iran, in Vienna. June 28, 2019

Iran may have stood down from its hardline stance that conditioned negotiations with the United States by Washington's return to the nuclear deal it left in May 2018, before imposing hard sanctions on Tehran.

Although President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif have repeatedly said that Washington's return to the nuclear deal, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was Tehran's precondition for negotiating with the United States, Tehran appears to have softened its stance recently.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi (Araghchi), who is officially in charge of Iran's JCPOA dossier, said on July 7 that the United States may take part in the talks between Iran and 4+1 (France, UK, Russia, China, and Germany) only if Washington lifts some of the sanctions it has imposed on Iran.

He was the second Iranian official who has spoken about the softening of Iran's position. Earlier, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi had said that Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will allow negotiations between Iran and the United States if the U.S. president lifts the sanctions he has imposed on Iran.

Alavi's had to later deny his statement as he had mentioned Khamenei, who does not want to be associated with a reconciliatory stance. However, Araqchi said the same thing without the reference to Khamenei.

Hardline lawmaker Mojtaba Zolnouri, who is the chairman of parliament’s national security committee confirmed Araqchi's statement, saying that the United States can join the talks and turn the 4+1 into 5+1 once again if it lifts the sanctions and returns to the JCPOA.

These comments lend further significance to the visit by Emmanuel Bonne, the French President's special envoy to Tehran. President Emmanuel Macron had said earlier in an interview with the Japanese TV that there are small measures, which can reduce the tensions between Tehran and Washington and save the two sides from embarrassment.

Later, he asked Iran to stop gradual reduction of its commitments to the nuclear deal and called on the U.S. president to lift some of the sanctions imposed on Iran in order to facilitate negotiations between the two states.

Macron held talks with Rouhani over the phone, but so far, Rouhani has called for lifting all U.S. sanctions. The key point is the difference between "some" and "all" U.S. sanctions.

After Bonne's talks in Tehran on July 10, Zarif's comments showed that although no agreement was reached over Macron's proposal, Iran did not categorically reject the idea. "You cannot expect Iran to stop its measures as long as the United States continues its economic war against Iran", Zarif told the French envoy - a statement that sounds more like bargaining than an outright rejection.

Araqchi who has called for lifting some of the sanctions, however, said that Iran's priority is the sanctions on Iran's international banking and oil exports.

Some hardliners in Iran, including former diplomat Mohammad Javad Larijani, have repeated Khamenei's hardline positions and called on Rouhani not to agree with negotiations with the United States under any circumstance.

Araqchi's comment about which sanctions have "priority" could be another indication of a change in Iran's position.

Iran knows that as long as U.S. sanctions remain in place, European companies will be reluctant to deal with Iran, despite the establishment of a special EU trade mechanism.

Iranian officials have previously said repeatedly that they would be happy with smaller measures that would solve Iran's urgent economic problems for the time being. Such a measure could be a step forward for Iran while fundamental differences over Tehran's nuclear program will still remain unresolved.

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    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.