U.S. agrees to meet Iran, world powers on nuclear deal 

February 19, 2021 - 11:51

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, USA TODAY reported.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said the United States "would accept an invitation" from a top European Union diplomat to attend a meeting of the nuclear deal's original signatories "to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program." 

No meeting has been set yet, but EU officials have indicated he would be willing to invite the parties to engage in talks. The nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, was negotiated by the U.S. with Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

"The #JCPOA at a critical moment," Enrique Mora, the EU's deputy secretary-general, tweeted after Price's statement. "I am ready to invite them to an informal meeting to discuss the way forward."

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, claiming it didn't go far enough to curb Iran's ballistic missile program.

President Joe Biden has long promised to try to revive the Iran nuclear agreement.

Iran complied with the deal for months, even as the Trump administration's sanctions took a toll on its economy. But Iran started to reduce its commitment in 2019, enriching uranium at higher levels than set out in the 2015 agreement. 

Republicans have pressed the Biden administration to use the U.S. sanctions as leverage to get a broader deal that curbs Iran's actions in the region. And they were quick to criticize Thursday's announcement.

"It is concerning the Biden administration is already making concessions in an apparent attempt to re-enter the flawed Iran deal," said Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"We need to secure a better deal that keeps the American people safe from the full range of Iran’s malign threats," McCaul said in a statement. 

But Democrats said the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the Iran deal was deeply counterproductive. Trump repeatedly said he wanted to sit down with Iran's leaders to negotiate a broader deal, but they rejected his entreaties.

“The Trump administration’s maximum pressure approach to isolate and cripple Iran was a miserable failure," said Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn.

The State Department official rejected any suggestion that agreeing to a meeting with Iran was a concession. He said the talks would be the first step toward prodding Iran to return to compliance.

"This is ... not in and of itself a breakthrough," the 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."

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