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Iran nuclear deal parties eye US return to accord

US President-elect Biden has signaled Washington will seek to rejoin the deal, which Trump backed out of in 2018

Abbas Araghchi (Center R), political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, and Helga Schmid (Center L), Secretary General of the EU's External Action Service (EEAS), take part in a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) attended by China, France, Germany, Russia,the UK and Iran on July 28, 2019 at the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)
Abbas Araghchi (Center R), political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, and Helga Schmid (Center L), Secretary General of the EU's External Action Service (EEAS), take part in a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) attended by China, France, Germany, Russia,the UK and Iran on July 28, 2019 at the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

VIENNA, Austria (AFP) — The remaining parties to the ailing 2015 Iran nuclear deal said Monday that they were preparing for the possible return of the US to the pact as President-elect Joe Biden readies to take office next month.

Biden, who takes office on January 20, has signaled Washington would rejoin the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear program.

The deal has been unraveling ever since outgoing US President Donald Trump dramatically withdrew from it in May 2018 and imposed crippling economic sanctions on Tehran.

“Ministers acknowledged the prospect of a return of the US to the JCPOA and underlined their readiness to positively address this in a joint effort,” a statement on behalf of ministers from Iran, China, Russia, Germany, France and the UK said after Monday morning’s online meeting.

Tehran has retaliated to US sanctions by progressively abandoning limits on its nuclear activity laid down in the deal.

Most recently Iran announced it planning to install advanced centrifuges at Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plant in Natanz, a plan condemned by France, Germany and Britain — collectively known as the “E3” — as “deeply worrying.”

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that the change of administration in the US meant that there was “a last window” for progress that “shouldn’t be wasted.”

“There can be no more tactical maneuvers of the kind we have seen all too often recently,” Maas warned at a press conference, adding that such actions “would only further undermine the agreement.”

His British counterpart Dominic Raab said that at the meeting he had “made it absolutely clear Iran must not implement the recently announced expansions to its nuclear program.”

“To do so would undermine the opportunities for progress we hope to see in 2021,” Raab added in a tweet.

The assassination last month of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh has heightened tensions in the region, with Iran blaming the killing on Israel.

A photo released by the semi-official Fars News Agency shows the scene where Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran, Iran, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 (Fars News Agency via AP); insert: Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in an undated photo (Courtesy)

In the wake of Fakhrizadeh’s death, Iranian MPs passed a bill calling for further expansion to Iran’s nuclear program and an end to inspections of nuclear facilities by the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Iranian foreign ministry said it did not agree with the bill and President Hassan Rouhani has suggested he will not sign it into law.

The end of IAEA inspections in Iran would probably mark a fatal blow to the accord’s chances of survival.

The statement issued after Monday’s meeting “stressed the importance of continued good faith cooperation with the IAEA.”

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