The Biden administration said Thursday it’s ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. It’s also reversed the Trump administration’s determination that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored and eased stringent restrictions on the domestic U.S. travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.
The Biden administration informed Israel in advance that it planned to announce on Thursday it was ready to talk to Iran about Washington and Tehran returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, a source told Reuters.
Biden's aides wanted to avoid blindsiding Israel, Iran's regional arch-foe, over the U.S. plans, which included telling the UN Security Council the new administration was rescinding former President Donald Trump's assertion that all UN sanctions had been reimposed on Iran in September.
The State Department said the U.S. would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of the participants in the original agreement. The U.S. has not participated in a meeting of those participants since former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Such an invitation has not yet been issued but one is expected shortly, following discussions earlier Thursday between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his British, French and German counterparts.
Blinken reiterated the U.S. position that President Joe Biden's administration would return to the accord formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if Iran came into full compliance with the deal.
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"Secretary Blinken reiterated that ... if Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA, the United States will do the same and is prepared to engage in discussions with Iran toward that end," a joint statement from the four nations said.
A U.S. official told Reuters that Washington would respond positively to any European Union invitation to talks among Iran and the six major powers who negotiated the original agreement: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
"We are ready to show up if such a meeting were to take place," the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity, after a senior EU official said he was prepared to convene such a meeting among the parties to the deal.
London, Paris and Berlin welcomed Biden's intention to return to diplomacy with Iran. But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fired back that it was for Washington to make the first move.
Iran began breaching the deal in 2019 after former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal and reimposed economic sanctions.
Tehran has accelerated its breaches in recent months and become locked in a standoff with Biden's administration over who should move first to save the accord.
"Instead of sophistry & putting onus on Iran, E3/EU must abide by own commitments & demand an end to Trump's legacy of #EconomicTerrorism against Iran," Zarif said in a tweet.
"Our remedial measures are a response to US/E3 violations. Remove the cause if you fear the effect," he continued. "We'll follow ACTION w/ (with) action."
A French diplomatic source said Washington's shift marked an opening for Iran but the path ahead was fraught with obstacles.
"The Americans said they were available to talk to Iran" in a meeting along with the original parties to the deal," he said after the talks in Paris. "It’s an opening."
Tehran has set a deadline of next week for Biden to begin reversing sanctions imposed by Trump, or says it will take its biggest step yet to breach the deal - banning short-notice inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog permitted under an Additional Protocol.
Britain, France and Germany, known collectively as the E3, and the United States called on Iran not to take any additional steps "with respect to the suspension of the Additional Protocol and to any limitations on IAEA verification activities in Iran".
The ministers said they were determined that Iran should not get a nuclear weapon and "expressed their shared concerns over Iran’s recent actions to produce both uranium enriched up to 20 percent and uranium metal", the statement added.
Refining uranium to high levels of fissile purity is a potential pathway to nuclear bombs, though Iran has long said it its enrichment programme is for peaceful energy purposes only.
Enrichment of 20 percent is well above the deal's 3.67 percent limit, though still well below the 90 percent that is weapons grade.