WASHINGTON: The Biden administration said on Thursday it was ready to hold talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, in a sharp repudiation of former president Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign that sought to isolate Tehran.
The administration also took two steps at the United Nations aimed at restoring policy to what it was before Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018. The combined actions were immediately criticised by Iranian hawks and drew concern from Israel, which said it was committed to keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Besides signalling a willingness to talk with Iran, the administration also reversed Trump’s determination that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored. And, it eased stringent restrictions on the domestic travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.
The State Department announced the moves following discussions between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his British, French and German counterparts and as Biden prepares to participate, albeit virtually, in his first major international events with world leaders.
In a statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, along with Iran in the original nuclear agreement.
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 Irans nuclear program, he said. The US has not participated in a meeting of those participants since Trump withdrew from the deal and began steadily ramping up sanctions on Iran.
Such an invitation has not yet been issued, but one is expected shortly, following Blinken’s talks with the British, French and German foreign ministers.
In Iran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday the Biden administration action meant that the US had acknowledged moves made under Trump had no legal validity.
“We agree,” he added, urging the Biden administration to lift sanctions imposed, reimposed or re-labelled by Trump. “We will then immediately reverse all remedial measures.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office expressed worry, saying it believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. It said in a statement on Friday that it it remains committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and was in close contact with the United States on the matter.
Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the Biden administration notified the Security Council that it had withdrawn Trump’s September 2020 invocation of the so-called snapback mechanism under which it maintained that all UN sanctions against Iran had been reimposed. Those sanctions included a conventional arms embargo against Iran that had been set to expire.
Trump’s determination had been vigorously disputed by nearly all other UN members and had left the US isolated at the world body. Thus, the reversal is unlikely to have any immediate practical effect other than to bring the US back into line with the position of the vast majority of UN members, including some of its 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 that culminated in its Sept 19 announcement that the United States had reimposed UN sanctions on Tehran due to its “significant non-performance” with its obligations.
Trump’s move had been ignored by the rest of the Security Council and the world, and the overwhelming majority of members in the 15-nation council had called the action illegal because the US was no longer a member of the nuclear deal.
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2021