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Iran renews call to lift sanctions after US says ready to restart nuclear talks

Iranian foreign minister says Tehran will immediately ‘reverse all remedial measures’ if the US unconditionally lifts all sanctions imposed by Trump

In this Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
In this Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Iran on Friday renewed its call for the US to lift all sanctions imposed by former president Donald Trump, after US President Joe Biden’s administration offered talks to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Iran would immediately “reverse all remedial measures” if the US “unconditionally and effectively” lifts “all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labelled by Trump.”

He said Iran agreed with the Biden administration’s decision to reverse the widely discredited claim by its predecessor that the UN had imposed new nuclear sanctions.

“We’ll follow action with action,” Zarif said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference with Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza at the Foreign Ministry in Caracas, Venezuela, Nov. 5, 2020 (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

The Biden administration said Thursday it’s ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the nuclear deal. It’s also reversed the Trump administration’s determination that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored and eased stringent restrictions on the domestic US travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.

The State Department said the US would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of the participants in the original agreement. The US has not participated in a meeting of those participants since Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Such an invitation has not yet been issued but one is expected shortly, following discussions earlier Thursday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his British, French and German counterparts.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the Biden administration notified the Security Council that it had withdrawn Trump’s September 2020 invocation of the so-called “snapback” mechanism under which it maintained that all UN sanctions against Iran had been re-imposed. That determination had been vigorously disputed by nearly all other UN members and had left the US isolated at the world body.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In another move, officials said the administration has eased extremely strict limits on the travel of Iranian diplomats accredited to the United Nations. The Trump administration had imposed the severe restrictions, which essentially confined them to their UN mission and the UN headquarters building in New York.

Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have long opposed the agreement and repeatedly warned against the US returning to the deal. There was no response yet from Jerusalem about the US announcement that it was ready to resume talks, which came after midnight in Israel.

The Reuters news agency, citing a source familiar with the matter, said the US had informed Israel ahead of time about Thursday’s announcement, but that Biden had not told Netanyahu directly.

After the announcement the EU political director Enrique Mora proposed via Twitter an informal meeting of all participants, saying the nuclear accord was at a “critical moment” — ahead of a weekend deadline for Iran to restrict some UN nuclear inspections.

This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Earlier Thursday, Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France urged Iran to allow continued United Nations nuclear inspections and stop nuclear activities that have no credible civilian use. They warned that Iran’s actions could threaten delicate efforts to bring the US back into the 2015 deal and end sanctions damaging Iran’s economy.

Iran has said it will stop part of International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities next week if the West doesn’t implement its own commitments under the 2015 deal. The accord has been unraveling since Trump pulled the US out of the agreement.

Blinken reiterated that “if Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments… the United States will do the same,” according to a joint statement after Thursday’s meeting that reflected closer trans-Atlantic positions on Iran since Biden took office.

The diplomats noted “the dangerous nature of a decision to limit IAEA access, and urge Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity.”

They said Iran’s decision to produce uranium enriched up to 20% and uranium metal has “no credible” civilian use.

The 2015 accord is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it is seeking such an arsenal.

In this April 9, 2018, 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)

The diplomats also expressed concern about human rights violations in Iran and its ballistic missile program.

Tehran has been using its violations of the nuclear deal to put pressure on the remaining signatories — France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China — to provide more incentives to Iran to offset the crippling sanctions.

Netanyahu has long been a leading critic of the agreement, which was reached when Biden was vice president.

On Monday, he vowed opposition to those who oppose his hawkish stance toward Iran.

A day later he spoke  the phone with Biden for the first time since he became president on Tuesday, after an eyebrow-raising four weeks of waiting. Netanyahu was the first Middle Eastern leader to receive a call from Biden, but the 12th world leader overall.

The two leaders discussed further strengthening US-Israeli ties in addition to building on the normalization agreements that were brokered by the Trump administration between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the PMO said.

They also spoke about “the Iranian threat and challenges of the region, agreeing to continue talks between them.”

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