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US says ready to meet with Iran over nuclear deal

February 19, 2021

Washington has said it would consider a return to the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration. Iran replied it's ready to comply with the agreement as soon as the US lifts sanctions.

The interior of a uranium conversion facility in Iran
Iran has pushed ahead with its uranium enrichment in recent months, despite US sanctionsImage: AFP/Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/HO

The US said Thursday it was ready to meet with Iran to discuss a return to the 2015 international nuclear deal. 

Washington left the deal in 2018 under the Trump administration, which then imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran.  

But President Joe Biden said the 2015 accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was effective in controlling and monitoring Iran's nuclear program.

"The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 [permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany] and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran's nuclear program," said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

The Biden administration stated earlier this month that the US would not lift sanctions on Iran.

Already broken, but could be mended

It is not clear yet if Iran will sit with the US. Iran breached the deal in 2019 and has accelerated its violations in recent months. Tehran showed that it was able to produce uranium enriched up to 20% and uranium metal, well above the limitations in the 2015 deal.

Refining uranium to high purity levels is a potential way to produce nuclear weapons, but Iran has stated that its enrichment program was only for energy purposes.

Iran reacted coolly to the idea of meeting with the US, initially put forward by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during a video meeting with foreign ministers from the UK, France and Germany

"If Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA, the United States will do the same and is prepared to engage in discussions with Iran toward that end," read a joint statement from the four countries.

Iran wants sanctions lifted first

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has previously been open to talks with the US and other parties over the deal, said the US should make the first move by lifting the sanctions placed on Iran.

'A violent confrontation is the last resort'

When sanctions are lifted, "we will then immediately reverse all remedial measures. Simple," Zarif said on Twitter.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi is set to travel to Tehran on Saturday for talks on continuing to allow inspections. Iran has said it will restrict some of the IAEA's inspections if the US does not lift the sanctions it imposed in 2018 by Sunday.

kbd/sri (AP, AFP, Reuters)