EU Planning JCPOA Talks, Including US, As Iran Says Sanctions Should Lift First
A senior European Union official has told Reuters that the EU is working on organizing an informal meeting of all the signatories of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, including the United States, whose President Donald Trump in 2018 left the agreement, known as the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and imposed draconian sanctions on Iran.
Both US President Joe Biden and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have expressed the desire to revive the JCPOA, which Iran has since 2019 breached in extending its nuclear program. But the process has been complicated by both Washington and Tehran insisting the other should move first.
The State Department said Thursday the US would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of all signatories to the original agreement – the United States, Russia, China, Germany, the UK, France, and Iran. Such an invitation is expected shortly, following discussions earlier Thursday between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his British, French, and German counterparts.
“I don’t think Iran will say no to any practical attempt for an informal meeting, with all the countries around the table, that would be a basis for putting the JCPOA back on track,” on Friday the EU official told Reuters.
But while Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested to CNN on February 2 that the EU could “choreograph” the JCPOA’s revival through existing JCPOA mechanism, the Iranians have now reacted to the US-European discussions without enthusiasm.
“Instead of sophistry & putting onus on Iran,” the Europeans should demand “an end to Trump’s legacy of economic terrorism,” Zarif tweeted on Thursday. “We will follow action with action.”
The English-language Twitter account of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressed a similar message on Wednesday [February 17]: “We’ve heard many promises which were broken and contradicted in practice. Mere words don’t help. This time only action! Action! If the Islamic Republic sees action from the other side, it will act too.”
Khamenei’s Instagram account on Friday posted an excerpt from a February 7 speech in which he said: “The US must lift all sanctions if they want Iran to return to its commitments under the JCPOA, not only in words and on paper to say they have removed them but in action, and we [should be able to] verify it… This is the definite policy of the Islamic Republic and agreed on by all authorities in the country. We shall not alter this policy.”
News agencies and websites affiliated with Iran’s principlists, including the Revolutionary Guards affiliated Fars News Agency, on Friday highlighted Khamenei’s earlier remarks. Iran has said it will reduce access of inspections from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from February 23 if US sanctions are not lifted in line with the JCPOA.
A senior Iranian official on Friday told Reuters that Tehran was considering Washington’s offer to talk about the revival of the deal. “But first they should return to the deal,” he insisted. “Our message is very clear. Lift all the sanctions and give diplomacy a chance.”
James Cleverly, the British junior foreign minister covering the Middle East said matters were “in Iran’s hands” as “they are the ones that can do something about this, and they should come back into compliance.”
The remaining signatories of the JCPOA met without the US in December and agreed both Iran and the US should return to their commitments under the agreement, while IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi told Reuters in December than an agreed plan was needed to sequence steps by the two parties – essentially Iran reversing steps taken beyond JCPOA limits and the US easing sanctions in line with the 2015 deal.
With Biden officials emphasizing the importance of consultation, and consulting regional allies not party to the JCPOA, and new conditions being suggested in Washington, Iran’s leadership has grown more suspicious.