White House says indirect diplomacy with Iran underway

US national security adviser says Washington has launched talks through intermediaries, is awaiting a response from Tehran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, in Tehran, Iran, March 7, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, in Tehran, Iran, March 7, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The US has begun indirect diplomacy with Iran through intermediaries and is awaiting a response from Tehran, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday.

“Diplomacy with Iran is ongoing, just not in a direct fashion at the moment. There are communications through the Europeans and through others that enable us to explain to the Iranians what our position is, with respect to the compliance-for-compliance approach,” Sullivan said at a press briefing at the White House.

“We’re waiting, at this point, to hear further from the Iranians how they would like to proceed,” Sullivan said. “We believe that we are in a diplomatic process now that we can move forward on, and ultimately secure our objective, which is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and to do so through diplomacy.”

US President Joe Biden and his administration have repeatedly said they will return to the 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers 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.

Informal talks between the US and Iran over the return to the nuclear deal could begin in the coming weeks, American and European diplomats told The New York Times in a report Thursday.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks with reporters in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, March 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Iran hit out Thursday at the US for sticking to what it called former president Donald Trump’s “failed policy,” saying such an approach would fail to salvage a nuclear deal.

“US claims it favours diplomacy; not Trump’s failed policy of ‘maximum pressure,'” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter. He attacked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and said, “Repeating the same policy won’t yield new results.”

Zarif’s comments came hours after Blinken signaled US opposition to the release of billions of dollars in Iranian funds held by South Korea unless the Islamic Republic returns to full compliance with the nuclear accord.

South Korea had said last month it agreed on a way forward to release billions of dollars frozen from Iran’s oil sales but was awaiting Washington’s approval.

Iran was a key oil supplier to resource-poor South Korea until Washington’s rules blocked the purchases.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on January 4 seized a South Korean tanker and arrested its multinational crew near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, saying it had polluted the waters. Tehran has on various occasions denied the seizure and the funds are linked.

Illustrative: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat moves in the Persian Gulf while an oil tanker is seen in the background, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear 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. 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.

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.

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, and a Thursday report said Israel has targeted Iran-linked ships in the region, marking a new front in the shadow war between the two regional foes.

Israeli and US administration officials held the first session of a bilateral strategic group aimed at collaborating in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon on Thursday. A White House spokesperson said the “US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group” was led by Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.

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