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Biden official says US seeking direct dialogue with Iran – report

Source in Washington says move will be accompanied by consultations with Israel, Gulf allies; promises ‘a new approach that seeks to reassert US deterrence in the region’

Left: US President-elect Joe Biden on January 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware (AP Photo/Matt Slocum); Right: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 9, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Left: US President-elect Joe Biden on January 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware (AP Photo/Matt Slocum); Right: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 9, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden’s administration will launch an initiative through European mediators to open a direct dialogue with Tehran, a source in Washington told Sky News Arabia on Monday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that “there will be a new approach that seeks to reassert US deterrence in the region and create a solution to the conflict with Tehran.”

The official said the new approach will be accompanied by contacts with the allies of the United States in the region, specifically with Gulf countries and Israel.

An unsourced report by Israel’s Channel 12 news said last week that officials in the Biden administration have already begun holding quiet talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and have updated Israel on those conversations.

In this April 9, 2018 file photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, Iran.(Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)

Biden has indicated his desire to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is known, while Israel has been pushing for any return to the agreement to include fresh limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for terror and destabilization around the world.

The JCPOA was signed by Iran and six world powers known as the P5+1 in 2015. Then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, opting instead for a “maximum pressure” sanctions effort.

Since 2019, Tehran has suspended its compliance with most of the limits set by the agreement in response to Washington’s abandonment of sanctions relief and the failure of other parties to the deal to make up for it. It is now enriching uranium to 20 percent, just a short step away from weapons-grade levels.

Iranian diplomats have been in touch with members of Biden’s administration about restarting talks on Tehran’s nuclear program and have laid out seven preconditions, a source in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s office told a Kuwaiti newspaper on Sunday.

Speaking to Kuwait’s al-Jarida newspaper, the Iranian official said that contacts began before Biden took office, and indicated that they are ongoing but informal.

In an article published Friday in Foreign Affairs, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote that Iran will not accept any new demands or terms to the deal proposed by Washington or any other signatories to the agreement.

If the US began by “unconditionally removing, with full effect, all sanctions imposed, reimposed, or relabeled since Trump took office,” Iran would reverse the measures it has taken since the American withdrawal from the deal in 2018, Zarif said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to dispatch Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to Washington in the coming weeks to lay out Israel’s demands of the Biden administration for any new version of the Iran nuclear deal, Channel 12 news reported Saturday night. The network said Cohen, one of Netanyahu’s most trusted operatives, is to travel to the US within the next month and will be the first senior Israeli official to meet  Biden. Cohen is also expected to meet with the head of the CIA.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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