BRUSSELS, Belgium The European Union has announced that officials from the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal will meet virtually on Friday to discuss a possible return of the United States to the landmark accord, an initiative welcomed by Washington as “a positive step”.
The administration new US President Joe Biden has been seeking to engage Iran in talks about both sides resuming compliance with the deal, under which the US and other economic sanctions on Tehran were removed in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme.
“Participants will discuss the prospect of a possible return of the United States to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and how to ensure the full and effective implementation of the agreement by all sides,” the EU said in a statement on Thursday, referring to the deal by its formal name.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, in 2018 unilaterally withdrew from the deal, a landmark pact signed in Vienna three years earlier by Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the US. Trump also re-imposed punishing US sanctions, prompting Iran, after waiting more than a year, to violate some of the pact’s nuclear restrictions in retaliation.
The punitive measures have crippled life in Iran, hampering the government from importing food, medicine and Covid-19 vaccines.
Biden has promised to rejoin the agreement – reached when he was vice president on former President Barack Obama’s administration – on the condition that Iran first returns to respecting the commitments it dropped in retaliation for Trump’s decision.
However, on Wednesday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said the Biden administration’s words have not translated into action and his country had seen “no serious efforts” from the US.
Earlier this week, multiple reports said the Biden administration offered a new proposal, including some sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for halting 20% uranium enrichment, to jump-start the negotiations.
The proposal was reportedly shot down quickly, with an unnamed senior Iranian official telling state-run Press TV that Iran would not reduce uranium enrichment in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US welcomed Friday’s meeting as “a positive step”.
“We have been clear for weeks now that we are ready to pursue a return to compliance with our JCPOA commitments consistent with Iran also doing the same,” said Price, adding that Washington was willing to achieve that “through a series of initial mutual steps”.
Meanwhile, two diplomatic sources said the UK, France and Germany had already held talks with Iran on Monday and one said there had been talks about an Iranian proposal.
Separately, France’s foreign ministry spokeswoman told reporters in a daily briefing that European powers were working closely with JCPOA co-signatories Russia and China to find a solution to the deadlock and had been talking with both Tehran and Washington.
“These exchanges are more than necessary because Iran has not accepted to take part in direct contacts between the other participants of the JCPOA and the United States … which would have eased discussions,” spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said.
Without elaborating, she said they were now looking at alternative formats to enable talks.