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US official: It doesn’t matter ‘who goes first’ in return to Iran nuclear deal

Statement suggests Washington softening its stance in stalemate with Tehran, after both sides had demanded the other make the first move toward compliance

Illustrative: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, January 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno, File)
Illustrative: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, January 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno, File)

A US official said Friday that it was unimportant who first returns to compliance with the Iranian nuclear deal, suggesting Washington was softening its position on the stalemate with Tehran.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said it will return to the nuclear deal, if Iran first returns to compliance, while Tehran demands the US lift sanctions before it comes back to the accord.

Iran gradually violated its commitments to the 2015 deal after former US president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 and put punishing sanctions on Tehran.

Iran in recent months has repeatedly taken steps to breach the agreement and turn up the heat on the US, including by enriching uranium past the accord’s limits and barring UN inspections of its nuclear facilities.

“That’s not the issue, who goes first,” an anonymous US official told the Reuters news agency. “Like, we are going to go at 8, they are going to go at 10? Or they go at 8, we go at 10? That’s not the issue.”

“The issue is do we agree on what steps are going to be taken mutually,” the official said. “It is absolutely not our position that Iran has to come into full compliance before we do anything.”

“If we agree on mutual steps, like we’ll do X, they do Y, the issue of sequence will not be the issue. I don’t know who would go first. I mean we could – it could be simultaneous,” the official said.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Biden administration and Iran have not agreed to meet to discuss the deal and have only communicated indirectly through European countries.

The 2015 deal Iran signed with world powers was meant to provide Iran with international sanctions relief in exchange for limitations on its controversial nuclear program. But it has been on life support ever since Trump withdrew from it and reimposed sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.

Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday reiterated the Islamic Republic’s “definite policy” that Washington must lift all sanctions before Tehran returns to its commitments under deal.

“The country’s policy regarding interaction with JCPOA parties and the JCPOA itself has been clear,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, referring to the accord by its official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

It “entails that the Americans must lift the sanctions, all the sanctions, and then we will verify and if they are truly lifted, then we will return to our JCPOA commitments,” he said.

Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have voiced opposition to the Biden administration’s desire to rejoin the deal, putting Jerusalem and Washington at odds on the issue. Some leading Israeli officials in recent months have warned of military action to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Nonetheless, Israeli and US officials agreed to set up a joint team for sharing intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program during recent strategic talks, according to a report last week.

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