Top Biden administration officials said Thursday that the U.S. would accept an invitation from the European Union to join multilateral talks with Iran, extending an olive branch that could pave the way for Washington to re-enter a landmark global nuclear deal with Tehran or craft another to take its place.
In a concrete sign of the change in Washington, U.S. diplomats Thursday announced they were repudiating an order by President Trump that all U.N. sanctions should be restored and separately announced an easing of stringent restrictions on the domestic travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the world body.
Leading Republicans quickly slammed the move and accused the Biden administration of making concessions to Iran without receiving any firm assurances that the Iranian regime is prepared to roll back its uranium-enrichment activities and come back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which former President Trump exited in 2018.
The State Department’s brief statement late Thursday offered little in the way of specifics, other than to make clear Washington is willing to talk.
“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.
The P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China — and Germany. Those nations, along with Iran, signed the JCPOA in 2015. The deal put firm limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for major economic sanctions relief.
Since Mr. Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and sanctions were put back in place, Iran has ramped back up its uranium enrichment beyond the thresholds it agreed to as part of the nuclear deal.
Until Thursday’s State Department comments, neither side seemed prepared to act first. The U.S. insisted that Iran come back into full compliance with the deal, while Tehran said Washington must make the first move by lifting sanctions.
“We’ll follow ACTION w/ action,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted Thursday.
Republicans warned the administration was moving ahead without demanding action by Tehran.
“It is concerning the Biden Administration is already making concessions in an apparent attempt to re-enter the flawed Iran deal. The Trump administration created leverage for President Biden on Iran — we should not squander that progress,” said Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking 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,” he said. “The Biden administration must prioritize bipartisanship and stick to their assurance not to re-enter the deal until Iran comes back into full compliance with the JCPOA.”
But some Democrats praised the move. House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, California Democrat, said in a statement that Mr. Trump’s unilateral hard line had only pushed Iran closer to getting a nuclear weapon.
“Consequently, I welcome the Biden administration’s announcement that it intends to pursue a renewed diplomatic effort, in close cooperation with our European allies,” Mr. Schiff said. “…And I hope the administration will pursue additional requirements that constrain Iran’s nuclear program for a longer time period and address its other malign activities, including its missile program and sponsorship of terror.”