US ‘ready’ for nuclear talks with Iran… with precondition to address ‘regional issues’

The Joe Biden administration said it’s willing to sit down with Iran to discuss renewing the 2015 nuclear pact, though a senior US official noted the talks must cover other “regional issues” – a potential deal-breaker for Tehran.

“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran's nuclear program,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a brief statement Thursday, referring to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany.

Price’s announcement followed a lengthy joint missive from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his French, German and British counterparts earlier on Thursday, hailing the nuclear deal – known formally as the JCPOA – as a “a key achievement of multilateral diplomacy.” 

However, the statement also insisted the Islamic Republic must return to “full compliance” with the pact, as Tehran has scaled back some of its own commitments under the deal in what it deems a legitimate response to Washington’s unilateral withdrawal in 2018 under former President Donald Trump. At the time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had repeatedly deemed Iran in compliance with the agreement.

Two State Department officials who declined to be named later echoed that demand, telling reporters that Washington would only consider a sit-down “if Iran will get back into compliance,” while also urging against Tehran’s pledge to halt snap IAEA inspections if US sanctions are not dropped by February 23.

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Perhaps more concerning for the future of a revived JCPOA, however, were the officials’ suggestion that other “regional security concerns” would be shoehorned into the pact. While negotiating the deal, former President Barack Obama came under pressure from Republican opponents to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, or its support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah, in the agreement. Tehran ultimately rejected such proposals, insisting the deal be confined to its nuclear program, a position it maintains today.

Israel, too, has called for a broader JCPOA that covers non-nuclear issues, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consistently blasting the agreement as too lax – though a number of current and former Israeli security officials have come out in support of the deal.

Ahead of Price’s announcement, Biden officials reportedly informed their counterparts in Tel Aviv the statement was coming to avoid “blindsiding Israel,” according to Reuters, especially as the move coincided with a separate announcement that the president would abandon Trump’s efforts to revive UN ‘snapback’ sanctions on Iran.

READ MORE: US rhetoric might have changed, but there’s no ‘goodwill’ from the Biden administration, says Iran’s Rouhani

Tehran responded skeptically to Thursday’s flurry of statements, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif demanding “action” over words from the Biden administration.

“Instead of sophistry & putting onus on Iran, E3/EU must abide by own commitments & demand an end to Trump's legacy of Economic Terrorism against Iran,” Zarif said.

Our remedial measures are a response to US/E3 violations. Remove the cause if you fear the effect. We'll follow ACTION w/ action.

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