US offers to restart talks with Iran to revive nuclear deal

The United States has said it was ready to restart talks with Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement, reversing former President Donald Trump’s decision to walk out of the landmark deal that was aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, after a meeting with his European partners on Thursday, stressed President Joe Biden’s position that Washington would return to the accord formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if Tehran came into full compliance with the deal.

The state department later said it was open to an “informal meeting” with the so-called P5+1 – the parties to the agreement including Iran – that a European Union official has offered to host. It is the most concrete step the Biden administration has publicly made towards direct engagement with Tehran on the nuclear deal to date.

However, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh seemed to immediately throw cold water on the suggestion, tweeting on Friday “It is now only Iran and P4+1”.

“Gestures are fine. But to revive P5+1, US must Act: LIFT sanctions,” he wrote.

‘Remove the cause if you fear the effect’

Iran has in recent months stepped up its nuclear activity in breach of the deal blaming the US and European powers – the other signatories to the deal – of reneging on their commitments. Tehran says Washington and European powers must be first to return to its commitments under the historic 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran has also threatened to stop part of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of its nuclear facilities scheduled for February 21 if the other signatories do not implement their own commitments under the deal.

European powers Britain, France and Germany – a group known as the E3 – and the US on Thursday warned Iran it would be “dangerous” to limit UN nuclear agency inspections.

“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 towards that end,” said a joint statement issued at the meeting in Paris.

Iran began breaching the deal in 2019, about a year after Trump withdrew and reimposed punishing economic sanctions.

Responding to the four nations’ statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday that Washington should make the first move.

“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.”

He said in a second tweet on Friday: “US unconditionally & effectively lift all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labeled by Trump. We will then immediately reverse all remedial measures. Simple: #CommitActMeet.”

Zarif has previously signalled an openness to talks with Washington and the other parties over reviving the deal.

Open to meeting

On Thursday, a spokesman for the US State Department said that Washington “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”.

That statement came after Enrique Mora, the deputy secretary general for political affairs of European External Action Service, tweeted he was ready to invite the parties to an “informal meeting to discuss the way forward”.

In a subsequent background briefing with reporters, US State Department officials said Washington’s openness was not “itself a breakthrough”, but said the meeting could be a “start what could be a prolonged path of trying to get back to a situation where both the US and Iran were back into compliance”, while reiterating Iran would have to come back into compliance first.

The officials said they did not expect the announcement to stop Iran from further violating provisions of the agreement in the coming days, saying “frankly, that was part of the calculation”.

Tehran’s deadline

Tehran has set a deadline of next week for Biden to begin reversing sanctions imposed by Trump, adding it will take its biggest step yet to breach the deal – banning short-notice inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog.

Britain, France, Germany, and the US have repeated their concerns over Iran’s recent actions to produce uranium enriched up to 20 percent and uranium metal.

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.

US officials have offered some conciliatory gestures towards Iran such as relaxing the travel restrictions on diplomats in its mission to the United Nations that the Trump administration imposed in 2019, which had confined them to a small section of New York City.

The US has also withdrawn a Trump administration assertion that all UN sanctions had been reimposed on Iran in September, according to a US letter to the United Nations Security Council seen by the Reuters news agency.

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