WASHINGTON – Biden’s government says it is ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. This is a sharp rejection of former President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” aimed at isolating the Islamic Republic.
The government also took two steps at the United Nations to restore policy Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018. The combined actions were immediately criticized by Iranian hawks and raised concerns with Israel, which said it was determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The government not only signaled a readiness to speak to Iran on Thursday, but also reversed Trump’s determination UN sanctions against Iran had been restored. And it eased strict restrictions on domestic travel by Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.
The State Department announced the move following talks between Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken and his British, French and German counterparts and as Biden prepares to attend his first major international events with world leaders, albeit virtually.
The announcement came the day before Biden should speak to the leaders of the group of the seven industrialized democracies and later that day at the annual Munich Security Conference. On both Fridays, Biden is expected to speak about his commitment to multilateral diplomacy and his desire to undo the damage Trump’s positions may have caused over the past four years. He is expected to address the US stance on the 2015 Iranian multilateral nuclear deal, the war in Afghanistan, and Russia and China’s economic and national security challenges.
In a statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of participants – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany and Iran – in the original nuclear deal.
“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 route to Iran’s nuclear program,” he said. The US has not attended a meeting of these participants since Trump stepped down from the deal and steadily tightened sanctions against Iran.
Such an invitation has not yet been issued, but one is expected shortly after Blinken’s talks with British, French and German Foreign Ministers.
In Iran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday that the action by the Biden government had resulted in the US recognizing the steps taken under Trump that “had no legal validity”.
“We agree,” he added, calling on the Biden administration to lift Trump’s imposed, reimposed or redesignated US sanctions. We will then immediately undo any remedial action. “
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office expressed concern, believing that “a return to the old deal will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal”. A statement on Friday said it remains “committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons” and is in close contact with the United States on the matter.
Meanwhile, the Biden government informed the United Nations Security Council that it had withdrawn Trump’s invocation of the September 2020 snback mechanism, after which it claimed that all UN sanctions against Iran had been reimposed. These sanctions included a conventional arms embargo against Iran that was due to expire.
Trump’s determination had been vehemently denied by almost all other UN members and had left the US isolated in the world body. Hence, the reversal is unlikely to have any immediate practical impact other than bringing the US back into line with the position of the vast majority of UN members, including some of their closest allies.
Acting US Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills sent a letter to the Security Council saying the United States “hereby withdraws” three letters from the Trump administration, culminating in its September 19 announcement that that the United States had re-imposed UN sanctions on Tehran for its “significant failure to meet” its commitments.
Trump’s move had been ignored by the rest of the Security Council and the world, and the vast majority of the members of the 15-Nations Council had called the action illegal because the US was no longer a member of the nuclear deal.
At the same time, officials said the government has been tightening travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats who are accredited to the United Nations. The Trump administration had imposed the severe restrictions that essentially restricted it to its UN mission and UN headquarters in New York.
The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, was quick to denounce the moves. “The point is that the Biden government is already making concessions when parents try to re-enter the flawed Iran deal,” he said. “The Trump administration has given President Biden leverage over Iran – we shouldn’t waste this progress.”
On Thursday before, Blinken and his European colleagues had asked Iran to allow continued nuclear inspections by the United Nations and to cease nuclear activities that have no credible civilian use. They warned that Iranian measures could threaten delicate efforts to re-include the US in the 2015 agreement and end the sanctions that are harming the Iranian economy.
Iran “plays with fire,” said Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who took part in talks with his British and French counterparts in Paris on Thursday. Blinken had joined via video conference.
Iran has announced that it will suspend some of the inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency next week if the West fails to implement its own obligations under the 2015 agreement. The deal has been dissolved since Trump pulled the US out of the deal.
Blinken reiterated that “if Iran again strictly adheres to its commitments … the United States will do the same,” according to a joint statement after Thursday’s meeting that reflected closer transatlantic positions on Iran since President Joe Biden took office.
The diplomats pointed to the “dangerousness of a decision to restrict access to the IAEA and urged Iran to examine the consequences of such severe measures, especially at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunities.”
They said Iran’s decision to manufacture up to 20% enriched uranium and uranium metal had “no credible” civilian uses.
The 2015 agreement aims to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies looking for such an arsenal.
“We are the ones who have kept this agreement alive for the past few years, and now it’s a matter of helping the United States get back on track,” Maas told reporters in Paris.
“The measures that have been taken in Tehran and that may be taken in the coming days are far from helpful. You are jeopardizing the Americans’ way back into this agreement. The more pressure there is, the more difficult it becomes politically to find a solution, ”he said.
The threats from Iran are “very worrying,” said British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, stressing the need to “re-engage diplomatically in order to hold Iran back, but also to bring it back into harmony.”
The diplomats also expressed concern about human rights abuses in Iran and its ballistic missile program.
In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani expressed hope on Thursday that the Biden administration would rejoin the deal and lift the US sanctions that Washington has imposed under Trump, according to state television.
Tehran has used its violations of the nuclear deal to put pressure on the remaining signatories – France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China – to provide more incentives for Iran to offset crippling sanctions.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the President of the European Council spoke to Rouhani this week to try to end the diplomatic stalemate. The head of the IAEA is expected to travel to Iran this weekend to find a solution to enable the agency to continue inspections.
Edith M. Lederer from the United Nations, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Angela Charlton and Masha Macpherson in Paris contributed to this.