UPDATE 2-Nuclear deal possible despite gaps if Iran takes decision -U.S.
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WASHINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) - While big gaps remain between Washington and Tehran, there could be an agreement within weeks for both to resume compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal if Iranian authorities decide to do so, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Thursday.
"Is it possible that we'll see a mutual return to compliance in the next few weeks, or an understanding of a mutual compliance? It's possible yes," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity during a telephone briefing.
"Is it likely? Only time will tell, because as I said, this is ultimately a matter of a political decision that needs to be made in Iran," he added.
U.S. officials return to Vienna this week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.
The crux of the agreement was that Iran committed to take steps to rein in its nuclear program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.
The U.S. official said it might be possible to revive a nuclear deal before Iran's June 18 elections but, again, put the onus on Iran to make such a political decision.
"We think that it's doable because it's not rocket science. It's not inventing a new deal ... Is it possible to get a deal before the Iranian elections? Absolutely," the official said.
However, he said this would require Iran to avoid asking Washington to do more than what is envisaged in the agreement while Tehran would seek to do less.
"If there is a clear and realistic practical view about what this means, it can be done relatively swiftly, both in terms of reaching an understanding and then implementing it, but the pace would have to accelerate for us to get there in the coming weeks and no guarantee that that will be the case," he said.
All parties to the original deal - Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - have joined the Vienna talks, with chiefly European diplomats shuttling between the U.S. and Iranian delegations.
The U.S. official described recent inaccurate reports about there being an agreement to release U.S. citizens detained in Iran as an "unspeakable cruelty" and he said there are separate talks about this.
"We're treating it independently," he said, saying it was "a matter of utmost urgency to get the detainees home. And we want it to be resolved sooner rather than later - immediately."
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn., and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller)
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