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US Says it is Ready to Start Talks with Iran Over Nuclear Deal

President Joe Biden speaks accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Joe Biden speaks, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Biden Administration said on Thursday it is ready to resume talks with Iran and world powers about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, an agreement the Trump administration unliterally abandoned in 2018.

The US State Department said it would accept an invitation from the European Union to meet with the remaining signatories of the accord. The deal was created to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“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.

No such invitation has been issued yet and there has been no response from Iran, which insists that the US first lift crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration before it returns to the negotiating table.

Further signaling a willingness to negotiate with Iran, the Biden administration reversed the Trump administration’s declaration last year that all UN “snap back” sanctions had been reimposed on Iran. Last August, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had triggered a 30-day process at the UN Security Council that led to the return of all UN sanctions on Iran. The Security Council ignored this move and said it was void because Pompeo had used a mechanism from the 2015 nuclear deal, and that by unilaterally abandoning the deal, the US had forfeited its right to trigger UN sanctions against Iran.

Biden also eased harsh domestic travel restrictions of Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations. Under the Trump administration, the diplomats were forbidden from leaving the UN headquarters building in New York and their UN mission.

“The idea here is to take steps to remove unnecessary obstacles to multilateral diplomacy by amending the restrictions on domestic travel. Those had been extremely restrictive,” a State Department official told reporters.

Israel strongly opposes efforts to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal. Reuters reports that the US had informed Israel about its intentions before the Thursday announcement.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said: "Israel remains committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and its position on the nuclear agreement has not changed. Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran's path to a nuclear arsenal. Israel is in close contact with the United States on this matter."

The US has repeatedly called for Iran to return to compliance under the deal. Iran has said it will stop part of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency’s inspection of its nuclear sites next week if the West doesn’t first return to its commitments under the deal.

Iran is currently producing uranium enriched up to 20%, a technical step away from weapons-grade. Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian use, but 20% enrichment is beyond what is needed for peaceful purposes.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said Iran is “playing with fire” by openly violating the nuclear deal.

“The measures that have been taken in Tehran and may be taken in the coming days are anything but helpful. They endanger the Americans’ path back into this agreement. The more pressure that is exerted, the more politically difficult it will be to find a solution,” he told reporters.

A state department official said Thursday’s announcement is “just a very first initial step” and is not “a breakthrough.”

“I assume this is going to be a painstaking and difficult process that’s going to take some time for it to see whether both sides agree on what they will define as compliance or compliance,” the official said.  “It’s going to involve getting together and talking about those, which is why the EU invitation is important and why we said that we would be prepared to go if, in fact, the EU were able to organize such a meeting.”

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