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US, Iran edging back to negotiating table

Rina Latuperissa

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The frozen lake of US-Iran confrontation is generating a pinging sound. The cracking of the ice is yet to produce that loud booming thunderclap. But these are early days. 

It was only last Thursday that the US and the three European states who are party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (2015 Iran nuclear deal) – Germany, France and the UK, or the “E3” – lobbed a joint statement across the court to Tehran, whereby US President Joe Biden’s administration announced its willingness to return to diplomacy with Iran. 

It was an opening move, where the Biden administration merely reiterated its position that it will return to the JCPOA if Tehran returns to strict compliance with it. The E3 and the US seek to strengthen the JCPOA to address broader security concerns related to Iran. But certain other moves went along with it on the same day: 

  • Washington expressed its acceptance of an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the so-called P5+1 countries – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – with Iran for an informal “diplomatic conversation” to chart a way forward; 
  • The Biden administration rescinded the Donald Trump administration’s decision in September 2020 to invoke “snapback sanctions” worldwide at the United Nations – a provision under Security Council Resolution 2231 – that was earlier rejected by the other 14 members of the council; and 
  • The Biden administration also informed Iran’s UN Mission in New York that it had removed Trump’s travel restrictions on its diplomats in New York, which allows them now to move anywhere within a 25-mile (40-kilometer) radius of the UN headquarters. Some Iranian officials also may be allowed to travel to the UN. 

A conversation between US and Iranian diplomats in an informal setting certainly serves a purpose insofar as it is a follow-up on an idea floated by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during an interview with CNN on February 1 that the EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell could assume the role of coordinator and create a mechanism to choreograph the steps to be taken simultaneously by both the Iranian and US sides to achieve JCPOA reinstatement. 

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi speaks over the Iran nuclear deal during a press conference in Tehran on August 9, 2015. Photo: AFP/Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency

Informal meeting

By Saturday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, the country’s chief nuclear negotiator, was on record saying that Tehran too was considering the proposition from Brussels and would “respond to this proposal [on an informal meeting] in the future.” 



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