WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Thursday it’s ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 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 former president Donald 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.
There was no response yet from Iran, which has demanded that the US lift sanctions before it returns to talks.
Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the Biden administration notified the Security Council that it had withdrawn Trump’s September 2020 invocation of the so-called “snapback” mechanism under which it maintained that all UN sanctions against Iran had been re-imposed.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.
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.
“The idea here is to take steps to remove unnecessary obstacles to multilateral diplomacy by amending the restrictions on domestic travel. Those had been extremely restrictive,” a State Department official told reporters.
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 US President Joe Biden had not told Netanyahu directly.
The EU political director, Enrique Mora, after the announcement 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.
A State Department official after the announcement called the move “just a very first initial step.”
The announcement was “not in and of itself a breakthrough. Even the first meeting itself may not be a breakthrough,” the official said.
“I assume this is going to be a painstaking and difficult process that’s going to take some time,” the official said. “I think the notion that either side is going to take steps in anticipation of the meeting or as a sort of down payment before the meeting, I think that’s probably not realistic.”
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 U.S. back into the 2015 deal and end sanctions damaging Iran’s economy.
Iran is “playing with fire,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who took part in the talks Thursday in Paris with his British and French counterparts. Blinken had joined via videoconference.
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.
“We are the ones who have kept this agreement alive in recent years, and now it’s about supporting the United States in taking the road back into the agreement,” Maas told reporters in Paris.
“The measures that have been taken in Tehran and may be taken in the coming days are anything but helpful. They endanger the Americans’ path back into this agreement. The more pressure that is exerted, the more politically difficult it will be to find a solution,” he said.
Iran’s threats are “very worrying,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, stressing the need “to re-engage diplomatically in order to restrain Iran, but also bring it back into compliance.”
The diplomats also expressed concern about human rights violations in Iran and its ballistic missile program.
In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani expressed hope Thursday that the Biden administration will rejoin the accord and lift the US sanctions that Washington re-imposed under Trump, according to state television.
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.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the president of the European Council spoke with Rouhani this week to try to end the diplomatic standoff. The head of the IAEA is scheduled to travel to Iran this weekend to find a solution that allows the agency to continue inspections.
Israel has voiced strong opposition to Washington returning to nuclear deal. Netanyahu has long been a leading critic of the agreement, which was reached when Biden was vice president, and warned against reengaging with Tehran on the accord.
Netanyahu strongly opposed the deal when it was made, and hailed Trump’s decision to quit it in 2018.
Netanyahu on Monday vowed opposition to those who oppose his hawkish stance toward Iran.
“Whoever supports our policies, I’m with him. And whoever endangers us, for example [on policies] regarding a nuclear Iran, which is an existential threat to us, so I oppose that, and I don’t care if it’s Democrats,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu spoke on 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.”
Biden has also said wants to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional hegemony, but that the priority is first getting Iran to comply with the JCPOA.