Iran on agenda as Biden huddles with world leaders in Rome

US president will meet with leaders of France, Italy, UK and Germany to coordinate on efforts to revive JCPOA, as Washington admits skepticism regarding chances it can be revived

US President Joe Biden, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron wave prior to a meeting at La Villa Bonaparte in Rome on Oct. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron wave prior to a meeting at La Villa Bonaparte in Rome on Oct. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden was expected to discuss coordinating efforts to curb Iran’s progression toward a nuclear bomb during meetings with world leaders in Rome over the weekend.

Biden met with French President Emmanuel Macron Friday and was slated to sit down with the leaders of Italy, Germany, France and the UK on Saturday at the G-20 summit of industrial nations.

The Biden-Macron sit-down focused largely on issues related to the US-bilateral relationship, according to The Associated Press, though the Iran issue did come up.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Thursday that Biden’s meetings would serve as an opportunity ״to touch base on where things stand” in the Biden administration’s efforts to negotiate a joint US-Iran return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, that traded international sanctions relief for curbs to Tehran’s nuclear program.

“It’s also an opportunity to level-set on our understanding of Iran’s progress on the nuclear program since they left the JCPOA,” Sullivan said. “And obviously, we all have deep concerns about the forward progress of that program since the lid was lifted and they began to operate outside of the constraints of the JCPOA.”

Sources told CNN that Biden’s talks with European leaders would include discussions on what penalties or actions they might take against Iran in case an agreement cannot be reached, amid growing pessimism in the US and among its allies.

A European diplomat told the station that the countries were also looking for ways to ratchet pressure on Iran with talks seemingly stalled.

“At the moment, there’s no time pressure on the Iranians, there’s no time pressure on anyone,” the diplomat said. “We need to make it feel like this is a bit urgent, I think it’s the first step we need to do.”

As the Biden-Macron meeting was taking place Friday, the US Treasury Department announced new sanctions 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 the region.

The national security adviser said Biden would be working to advance a “shared strategy and solidarity and unity in our approach” on Iran.

US National Security AdviserJake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, August 23, 2021. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Asked whether the US believes Iran is ready to return to talks in Vienna on a return to the JCPOA, Sullivan was unable to give a definitive answer.

“It’s not entirely clear to me yet whether the Iranians are prepared to return to talks. 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.”

“We’re prepared to negotiate in good faith for a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. We hope they are as well,” Sullivan said.

Washington has responded skeptically after Iran’s chief negotiator announced Wednesday that Tehran was ready to return to nuclear negotiations in Vienna by the end of next month.

Ali Bagheri, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator for the talks, in a Twitter post said 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.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said later that day that administration officials were aware of Bagheri’s comments but were waiting for European officials to confirm that Iran is indeed ready to resume talks.

“I would leave to the negotiators to determine when the next round of discussions will be,” Psaki said.

TV cameras in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal and the US has participated indirectly in the Vienna talks, which were aimed at bringing both Washington and Tehran back into compliance. The talks have been on hiatus since June when Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi took power.

Bagheri’s signaling that Iran was ready to resume talks comes after US special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, said this week there is a “deep and growing” concern in the Biden administration about Iran’s refusal to commit to a date to resume negotiations in Vienna.

The UN’s atomic watchdog has said Iran is increasingly in violation of the JCPOA. Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union remain part of the deal.

Bagheri also said on Twitter that he has engaged in “very serious and constructive dialogue” with Enrique Mora, the European Union’s deputy secretary-general for political affairs, “on the essential elements for successful negotiations.”

AP contributed to this report.

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