Iran asks Europe to help bridge impasse with US over return to nuclear deal

Zarif suggests EU could coordinate steps from Washington and Tehran, which are both currently insisting the other return to accords first

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens during the talks in Moscow, Russia, January 26, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens during the talks in Moscow, Russia, January 26, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

WASHINGTON  — Iran’s foreign minister on Monday asked the European Union to coordinate a synchronized return of both Washington and Tehran into a nuclear deal, after a diplomatic standoff on who will act first.

US President Joe Biden has voiced support for returning to the accord, from which Donald Trump exited, but has insisted that Tehran first resume full compliance by reversing measures it took to protest the sweeping sanctions imposed by his predecessor.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has previously demanded an end to sanctions before Iran acts, offered a way forward during an interview on CNN International.

“You know clearly there can be a mechanism to basically either synchronize it, or coordinate what can be done,” he told interviewer Christiane Amanpour.

In this photo released on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the organization, speaks with media while visiting Natanz enrichment facility, in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Zarif said that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell should play a role in his position of coordinator of the 2015 agreement — which also included Britain, France and Germany as well as Russia and China.

Borrell can “sort of choreograph the actions that are needed to be taken by the United States and the actions that are needed to be taken by Iran,” Zarif said.

“The United States needs to come back into compliance and Iran will be ready immediately to respond. The timing is not the issue.”

Trump walked out of the deal negotiated under former President Barack Obama, vowing instead to strangle Iran’s economy and reduce its clout around the region.

The Biden administration argues that Trump’s actions badly backfired, with Iran both moving away from the nuclear deal and only intensifying its opposition to US interests, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken warning in an interview broadcast Monday that Iran could now produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon within “a few months.”

But Blinken again cautioned that a return to the nuclear accord would not be swift.

Anthony Blinken speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, November 24, 2020. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“If it decides to come back into the agreement — that may take some time, then it’s gonna take us some time to assess whether they, in fact, had made good on their obligations,” Blinken told NBC News.

Zarif in his interview said that Iran could return to its previous commitments “in less than a day.”

“Some may take a few days or weeks, but it won’t take any longer that it would take the United States to implement executive orders that are necessary to put back Iran’s oil, banking, transportation and other areas that President Trump violated, back into operation,” Zarif said.

Iran denies it is seeking a nuclear weapon, however last month, Tehran announced it was beginning to enrich uranium up to 20 percent — far beyond the 3.5 percent permitted under the nuclear deal, and a relatively small technical step away from the 90 percent needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran also said it was beginning research into uranium metal, a material that technically has civilian uses but is seen as another likely step toward a nuclear bomb.

Iran said last week it would also move to restrict short-notice inspections of suspect nuclear facilities from late February.

The Biden administration’s policy on Iran is expected to be a point of contention between the new US administration and Israel. Israeli officials have voiced strong objections to the US rejoining the nuclear deal, and have also issued threats against Iran in recent weeks.

Israel, along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, are all seeking to dissuade the Biden administration from returning to the Iran nuclear agreement in its original form. The Biden administration has pledged to consult with Israel and its other Middle East allies before making decisions regarding Iran.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in an interview broadcast Sunday that Israel is still keeping open the possibility of taking action against Tehran’s nuclear project if necessary.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi issued a rare public criticism of the US plans on Tuesday and said that he had ordered the military to develop operational plans for striking Iran’s nuclear program.

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