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US official says doesn’t matter ‘who goes first’ in reviving Iran deal

A US official says it does not matter who first returns to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, suggesting a retreat from a position that conditioned Washington’s return to the accord on Tehran’s resumption of suspended commitments.

The official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Friday it was not the US stance that Iran must take a first step to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“It is absolutely not our position that Iran has to come into full compliance before we do anything,” he told Reuters.

“As for, if we agree on mutual steps, like we’ll do X, they do Y, the issue of sequence will not be the issue. I don’t know who would go first. I mean we could – it could be simultaneous.”

The official also noted, “That’s not the issue, who goes first,” adding, “Like, we are going to go at 8, they are going to go at 10? Or they go at 8, we go at 10? That’s not the issue. The issue is do we agree on what steps are going to be taken mutually.”

In 2015, Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany, signed the JCPOA, which was ratified in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

Three years later, however, former US president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the JCPOA and reinstated the anti-Iran sanctions that had been lifted by the agreement.

The new US administration, under President Joe Biden, has claimed it is willing to rejoin the JCPOA, but conditioned the move on Tehran’s resumption of the obligations it has suspended under the nuclear agreement in response to the US withdrawal in 2018 and the other parties’ failure to meet their end of the bargain.

However, Tehran says the US, as the first party that reneged on its commitments, should take the first step towards the deal’s revival and unconditionally remove all the sanctions imposed under Trump in a verifiable manner.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei stressed last week the United States must first lift all the sanctions it has imposed on Tehran after unilaterally withdrawing from the JCPOA before the Islamic Republic would return to full compliance with its commitments under the deal.

“Americans must lift all sanctions first and then we will verify and if they are truly lifted, then we will return to our [JCPOA] commitments without any problem. We cannot trust the Americans’ promise,” the Leader said.

‘US rebuffed European pleas to lift some anti-Iran bans’

On Friday, Foreign Policy magazine quoted two unnamed European diplomats as saying that in the weeks after Biden’s inauguration in January, British, French, and German diplomats approached the new administration with a plan to revive the JCPOA.

They proposed lifting some of the sanctions to bring the United States closer to compliance with the deal it had walked away from, and to put the onus on Iran to reciprocate, according to the report.

A senior Biden administration official said it is “accurate that some Europeans felt we should take the first early steps. The Europeans, Russians, and Chinese all felt the US withdrew from the deal first, the US should take the first step. I think it’s fair to say some Europeans thought an early gesture by us might have set a different tone. It might have helped, it might not,”

“What we conveyed to the Europeans was that we were prepared to take some steps, but not unilaterally,” he added.

The report said the Europeans underestimated the domestic political opposition to the JCPOA, which has been led by powerful lawmakers, including Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a congressional aide expressed concern that Biden may already have botched an opportunity to make good on a promise to rejoin the nuclear agreement.

“This is one of President Biden’s clearest commitments. As a candidate, Biden stated the ‘urgent’ need to rejoin the JCPOA… They should have done this on day two. Instead, we’re watching the opportunity for diplomacy slip away, and the likelihood of greater conflict increase.”

Ali Vaez, an expert on Iran with the International Crisis Group, said, “I think there was a need for a mea culpa from the Biden administration,”

“The maximum pressure campaign inflicted not only economic damage on the country but also cost Iranian lives in the middle of a deadly pandemic. The Biden administration acted as if all this harm inflicted on Iran was done by a different country. It didn’t take any responsibility for the mistakes committed by its predecessor. That is going to have long-term implications for Iranian-US relations.”

In an interview, US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said, “The maximum pressure has failed. … It’s been bad for the US, for Iran, for the region.”

“What we want to do is get into a position where the US can lift sanctions again, and Iran can come back into compliance with its nuclear commitments under the deal.”

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