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US, European leaders express ‘grave, growing concern’ over Iran

Biden, Macron, Johnson and Merkel say they’re determined ‘to ensure Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon,’ but restoration of nuke deal only possible if Tehran changes course

US President Joe Biden greets French President Emmanuel Macron (right), as Democratic Republic of Congo's President and African Union Chair Felix Tshisekedi looks on prior to a group photo of world leaders at the La Nuvola conference center for the G20 summit in Rome, on October 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
US President Joe Biden greets French President Emmanuel Macron (right), as Democratic Republic of Congo's President and African Union Chair Felix Tshisekedi looks on prior to a group photo of world leaders at the La Nuvola conference center for the G20 summit in Rome, on October 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

The leaders of the United States, Germany, France and Britain on Saturday expressed their “grave and growing concern” at Iran’s nuclear activities, after a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

“We are convinced that it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to full compliance,” they said in a joint statement.

“This will only be possible if Iran changes course.”

Earlier this week, Tehran said it would resume talks with world powers in November on reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program, following a five-month gap.

Iran held six rounds of indirect negotiations in Vienna with President Joe Biden’s administration on returning to the agreement, but talks went on hiatus in June as a new hardline government took office in Tehran.

After the meeting in Rome, US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “agreed that continued Iranian nuclear advances and obstacles to the IAEA’s work will jeopardize the possibility of a return to the JCPOA.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is supposed to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.

In a joint statement, the leaders said they were determined “to ensure that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.”

(From L) British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, German outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden pose within a meeting about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the sidelines of the G20 of World Leaders Summit on October 30, 2021 in Rome. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

They said they shared a “grave and growing concern that, while Iran halted negotiations on a return to the JCPOA since June, it has accelerated the pace of provocative nuclear steps, such as the production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal.”

“Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure, but both are important to nuclear weapons programs,” the statement said.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier in the week that Saturday’s meeting would feature the leaders “all singing from the same song sheet on this issue.”

He called it a “study in contrast with the previous administration” since Iran was one of the areas of most profound divergence between the Trump administration and the Europeans.

The United Nations’ atomic watchdog has said Iran is increasingly in violation of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Former US president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal, and the US has participated indirectly in talks aimed at bringing both Washington and Tehran back into compliance.

The meeting took place while the leaders are in Rome for the Group of 20 summit, the first stop on Biden’s five-day foreign trip. He’s also going to a UN climate conference in Scotland.

Biden was welcomed to the summit site by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and joined his counterparts for the customary “family photo,’ before he attended the opening plenary session on the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery.

Saturday’s meeting follows days after Ali Bagheri, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator for the talks, tweeted that Iran has agreed to restart negotiations by the end of November and a date for a resumption of talks “would be announced in the course of the next week.”

In this image, made from April 17, 2021 video released by the state-run TV station Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility. (IRIB via AP)

Sullivan said Thursday that the US was still trying to determine whether Iran was serious about the negotiations.

“It’s not entirely clear to me yet whether the Iranians are prepared to return to talks,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden flew to Rome for the Group of 20 summit. “We have heard positive signals that they are, but I think we have to wait and see when and whether they actually show up at the negotiating table.”

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on October 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Sullivan said the group would be sending “clear messages” to Iran that the window for negotiation “is not unlimited.”

“We, of course, retain all other options to be able to deal with this program as necessary,” he said.

Saturday’s meeting comes days after American officials blamed Iran for a drone attack on a remote US outpost in Syria. Officials said Monday the US believes that Iran resourced and encouraged the attack, but that the drones were not launched from Iran.

No deaths or injuries were reported as a result of the attack.

In retaliation, the US Treasury Department on Friday announced new penalties against two senior members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and two affiliated companies for supplying lethal drones and related material to insurgent groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Ethiopia.

At the summit, Biden was expected to push for progress toward his goal of establishing a global 15 percent corporate minimum tax, even as his domestic effort to raise the business rate to that figure was stuck in limbo in Washington.

He also was expected to discuss measures to ease a global energy supply crunch that has led to rising prices, imperiling the global economic recovery.

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