WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said Thursday it would agree to meet with Iran and other world powers involved in negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal, the first public step toward renewed diplomacy with Tehran.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said the United States “would accept an invitation” from the European Union’s top diplomat to attend a meeting of the nuclear deal’s original signatories “to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program.”
The nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, was negotiated by the U.S. with Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom.
No meeting has been set yet, but the EU’s high commissioner, Josep Borrell, has indicated he would be willing to invite the parties to engage in talks. A State Department official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S. would be represented at the meeting by Biden’s special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley.
Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018, saying it didn’t go far enough to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for terrorist groups in the region.
President Joe Biden has long promised to try to revive the Iran nuclear agreement, and his advisers have said the administration’s first priority would be to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
But Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, have also repeatedly said the US would only rejoin the agreement – and lift crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration – if Iran first came back into compliance with the deal. Iran has breached the deal by enriching uranium at higher levels than set out in the 2015 agreement.
A State Department official said a meeting would be the first step toward making that renewed compliance happen.
“This is … not in and of itself a breakthrough,” the State Department official told reporters on Thursday. “Until we sit down and talk, nothing’s going to happen … The situation is just going to go from bad to worse.”
The surprise announcement comes just days before a Feb. 21 deadline, set by Iran’s parliament. Tehran vowed to suspend some inspections of its nuclear sites by United Nations nuclear inspectors – a key provision of the accord – and further boost uranium enrichment unless the US moved to rejoin the deal.
It’s not clear if Thursday’s announcement will be enough for Iran to drop its threat to block UN inspectors.
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