Iran has snubbed the White House's signaling on Thursday that it's ready to sit down for EU-sponsored talks toward restoring the 2015 nuclear deal. For the first time in the Biden administration a senior US official said "We are ready to show up if such a meeting were to take place" - in what's clearly an invitation for Iran to signal the same. But Tehran has slapped it down, sticking with its line that Washington must begin dialing back sanctions first.
Bloomberg reports on the latest Friday after a flurry of statements out of the US administration which appeared to belatedly extend an open hand: "Iran said the U.S. must first return to the 2015 nuclear deal and lift sanctions if it wants talks with the Islamic Republic, appearing to snub an effort by the Biden administration to begin direct discussions before officially rejoining the accord."
Iran's foreign ministry then took the opportunity to remind the world that there was a perfectly good nuclear deal in place to which Iran was in full compliance but that "Trump left the room and tried to blow it up" - in reference to the US pulling out of the deal in May 2018.
Reminder: Because of US withdrawal from JCPOA, there is NO P5+1.— Saeed Khatibzadeh (@SKhatibzadeh) February 19, 2021
It is now ONLY Iran and P4+1.
Remember, Trump left the room and tried to blow it up.
Gestures are fine. But to revive P5+1, US must Act: LIFT sanctions.
We WILL respond.
Here is the key sequence: #CommitActMeet
"Because of US withdrawal from JCPOA, there is NO P5+1. It is now ONLY Iran and P4+1," government spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted in response Friday.
"US must Act: LIFT sanctions. We WILL respond," he added. Biden's strategy has been to demand Iran return to conformity with uranium enrichment caps first - before there's any talk of sanctions relief - however, Tehran has been consistent in saying it's for Washington to move first (by lifting sanctions).
Time is running out and the Biden White House is suddenly realizing it's painted itself into a corner. Though there was big talk on the campaign trail about reversing Trump's Iran policies, the reality is nothing has changed.
Iran has indicated it will begin blocking IAEA inspectors from its nuclear facilities starting Sunday, February 21st, hence this new scramble out of the Biden administration to find a way forward before this next escalation measure that many fear would be hard to roll back after it takes effect. Both the US and Europe are warning against such a step.
So far the Biden admin has introduced meager steps such as dropping travel restrictions on top level Iranian diplomats Trump had enacted, as well as abandoning the push for "snapback" sanctions at the UN.
This appeared an initial step toward softening this major attempt at an overture:
On Thursday, the Biden administration said it would be willing to meet with Iran to discuss a "diplomatic way forward" in efforts to return to the nuclear deal, a first step toward easing tensions.
"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 statement. The P5+1 refers to the participants in the nuclear deal with Iran: China, Russia, France, the U.K., the U.S and Germany.
The US has lately been in direct talks with allies Britain, France, and Germany - the key European signatories to the JCPOA - and it appears they've finally struck up a common strategy in getting the frozen communications between Tehran and Washington going again.
First bits of gossip out of the small group of Biden's National Security Council staff.— Joshua Landis (@joshua_landis) February 19, 2021
Who are the hawks: Brett McGurk & Jake Sullivan "aim for a bigger deal immediately."
"Rob Malley is known to be more of an advocate for a return to the original nuclear deal"
By @nahaltoosi https://t.co/M23m5oB9p1
But perhaps seizing upon the sense of confusion and raging policy debate within the Biden White House on the issue, the Iranians are seeking to be in the driver's seat after patiently enduring Trump's 'maximum pressure'.