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US reiterates: No ‘unilateral gestures’ to Iran to jumpstart nuclear talks

State Department stresses again that Biden administration wants ‘compliance for compliance’ and to ‘lengthen and strengthen’ the 2015 nuclear deal

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington, February 25, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP)
US State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington, February 25, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP)

The Biden administration on Thursday reiterated that it will not grant any unilateral favors to Iran in a bid to jumpstart talks on returning to the 2015 accord limiting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

“We will not offer any unilateral gestures or incentives to induce the Iranians to come to the table. If the Iranians are under the impression that absent any movement on their part to resume full compliance with the JCPOA that we’ll offer favors or unilateral gestures, well that’s a misimpression,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, referring to the deal with the initials of its formal name — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

He added: “Ultimately that is where we seek to go — compliance for compliance.”

Price also said Iran’s return to compliance is “necessary but insufficient” in addressing concerns over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and other regional activities.

“Insufficient, because we would then seek to lengthen and strengthen the terms of that deal, using it as a platform… to address these other areas of profound concern with Iran’s behavior in the region,” Price said.

His comments came after the New York Times reported informal talks between the US and Iran on returning to the nuclear deal could begin in the coming weeks.

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

When the informal talks do begin, it is expected that the United States and Iran could agree to take simultaneous steps toward coming back into compliance with the accord, the report said, citing unnamed American and European diplomats.

US President Joe Biden and his administration have repeatedly said they will return to the JCPOA if Tehran first returns to compliance. Iran has insisted the US remove sanctions before it returns to the deal’s terms, putting the two sides at a stalemate.

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and put punishing sanctions on Iran.

Since the US left the deal under Trump, Iran has walked away from the pact’s limitations on its stockpile of uranium, and has begun enriching uranium to 20 percent, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels.

Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have already begun voicing 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 threatened military action to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with then US vice president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In recent months, Iran has repeatedly taken steps to violate the deal and turn up the heat on the US, including by enriching uranium and barring UN inspections of its nuclear facilities.

In addition, Iran has blamed Israel for the November assassination of its chief military nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, and threatened retaliation.

Israel blamed Iran for an explosion on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Persian Gulf last month.

On Thursday, Israeli and US officials held the first session of a bilateral strategic group aimed at collaborating in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Following Thursday’s meeting, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that Israel will be regularly briefed “if this diplomatic track moves forward.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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