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Biden admin says US will join EU-led Iran nuke negotiations if invited

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. (State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha)
February 19, 2021

U.S. State Department officials say President Joe Biden is ready to join talks on Iran nuclear negotiations if invited to do so by the European Union. The stance indicates the Biden administration’s interest in returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal in 2018.

On Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said “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.”

P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., with the +1 referring to Germany. The gorup of six countries is also referred to as the E3+3, signifying the three EU countries, France, Germany and the U.K. and the three non-EU countries including China, Russia and the U.S.

A State Department official told reporters, “The goal of coming together would be to sit down and to see – start what could be a prolonged path of trying to get back to a situation where both the U.S. and Iran were back into compliance.”

Earlier on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his British, French and German counterparts issued a joint statement saying they would work towards preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

While the EU has not yet formally offered the U.S. any invitation, the State Department official said, “I think all we’ve seen today is a first indication, the first that we’ve seen since President Biden has been in office, that the EU thinks that the conditions are ready, that they are ready to invite the parties to talk. So timing I don’t know, and location I don’t know.”

That same State Department official added, “What I can say, it would not be at the ministers level; it would be at the political directors level. So in our case, it would be – well, in our case, it would be the special envoy for Iran and others would – it would be at political directors level. But beyond that, we don’t have any – it’s not up to us, and so we don’t know about either the timing or the location.”

A second State Department official told reporters that Ambassador Richard Mills, the acting U.S. representative to the U.N., sent a letter to his U.K. counterpart reversing Trump-era Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s attempt to trying a U.N. sanctions “snapback” on Iran for violating its commitments under the Iran deal.

The second State Department official said the U.S. has dropped U.S. travel restrictions imposed against Iranian diplomats. They said the U.S. “is bringing the domestic travel controls on Iranian representatives back in line with those in place for several other missions to the UN. So essentially, returning to the status quo of the last few years before the last administration.”

Reacting to the Biden administration’s announcements on Iran, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “It is concerning the Biden Administration is already making concessions in an apparent attempt to re-enter the flawed Iran deal. The Trump Administration created leverage for President Biden on Iran – we should not squander that progress. We need to secure a better deal that keeps the American people safe from the full range of Iran’s malign threats. The Biden Administration must prioritize bipartisanship and stick to their assurance not to re-enter the deal until Iran comes back into full compliance with the JCPOA.”

Other lawmakers have warned against the Biden administration returning to the Iran deal as is. Also reacting to the Biden administration’s Thursday announcements, Rep. Liz Cheney said, “Re-engaging with the human rights abusers in Tehran to revive this disastrous, outdated agreement will embolden a ballistic missile-armed, terrorist regime and make us and our allies more vulnerable to their hostile behavior.”

Opposition to an Iran deal return has also garnered bipartisan support. During Blinken’s Senate confirmation hearing, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said, “I fear returning to the JCPOA without concrete efforts to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activity would be insufficient.”