Iran has declined a European invitation to attend live talks with the US about a return to the nuclear deal that Donald Trump left in 2018, but says it will continue “talks” through other channels.
The decision is a blow to the Biden government, who had said it would attend talks with Tehran under the auspices of the EU in an attempt to revive the multiparty agreement. That pact placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Both Washington and Tehran are failing to comply with the 2015 agreement and have demanded that the other take the first step towards full compliance again.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Sunday that the timing was not “appropriate” for such a meeting because “there is still no change in the US position and behavior.”
The White House said it was disappointed, but “ready to re-engage in meaningful diplomacy to drive a reciprocal return to compliance. [the deal’s] commitments. “
“We will consult with our P5 + 1 partners on the best way forward,” said a spokesman, referring to the six other signatories to the deal.
The rejection highlights how difficult it is to agree on what steps are required from both sides to orchestrate a return to the deal. U.S. officials have been blaming suspicion under the Trump administration for years.
The Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign imposed a slew of financial sanctions that have hurt Iran’s economy at a time when it is struggling to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The causes of this standoff are not serious, but the consequences could be serious,” said a senior US official, adding that while sequence issues could be resolved, waiting too long could cause Iran to deviate further from the agreement.
Western officials are concerned that Tehran, which began to escalate from non-compliance in 2019 in retaliation for the US withdrawal, has taken accelerated steps to develop its nuclear program this year.
“The path is very clear. The US must end its illegal and unilateral sanctions, ” Khatibzadeh said in a statement, accusing the Biden administration of ‘not giving up’ its predecessor’s maximum pressure policy. However, he added that the Islamic republic would continue its “consultations” with other signatories to the nuclear deal and the EU.
In addition to the US and three European signatories (UK, France and Germany), China and Russia have also signed the deal with Iran. Washington had already spoken with Beijing and Moscow to develop a common position.
But while the Biden administration has taken some minimal steps to show goodwill, it does not want to provide significant incentives in advance for Iran to return to the accord.
“This chicken game needs to be solved,” said a conference official.
“We don’t think we need to make a gesture to get Iran back to the table,” the senior US official said. But the official viewed the rejection as part of a “diplomatic dance,” adding, “We don’t think the door is closed.”
An EU diplomat expressed deep disappointment at Iran’s decision to reject the talks. “I think it is very serious,” said the diplomat.
Iran’s rejection was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
In addition to the call from Tehran to the US to withdraw sanctions, it has also indicated that it is open to other measures. Iran has called on South Korea, Japan and other countries to return frozen Iranian assets. While such transactions are not subject to US sanctions, people familiar with the case said the return of the money would be contingent on a “ letter of comfort ” from the Sanctions Department of the US Treasury Department, which has not been disclosed so far .
Iran’s rejection also comes after Biden’s decision last week to launch airstrikes against two Shia militias in Syria. Supporters of the decision hailed it as a signal to Iran, which has ties to such groups, that Washington would take a crackdown on Tehran’s proxies in the region.
US defense officials said “up to a handful” of people would have been killed in the attack.
Washington officials sought to distance Iran’s rejection of nuclear talks from any response to the airstrike. Tehran has condemned the airstrikes and said they could further destabilize the region.
Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, said last weekend that the US was seeking to “start a new round of organized terrorism in the region” and vowed that the Islamic republic “would not let this happen again”. Iran has repeatedly accused Washington of helping Sunni radical groups – such as Isis – to put pressure on Shia-dominated Iran.