U.S. says ready for talks with Iran over nuclear deal
LONDON, Feb 18 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, seeking to revive a deal that Washington abandoned nearly three years ago.
Iran reacted coolly to the U.S. idea, which was conveyed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a video meeting with his British, French and German counterparts gathered in Paris.
Blinken reiterated the U.S. position that President Joe Biden's administration would return to the accord formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if Iran came into full compliance with the deal.
"Secretary Blinken reiterated that ... if Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA, the United States will do the same and is prepared to engage in discussions with Iran toward that end," a joint statement from the four nations said.
A U.S. official told Reuters that Washington would respond positively to any European Union invitation to talks among Iran and the six major powers who negotiated the original agreement: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
"We are ready to show up if such a meeting were to take place," the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity, after a senior EU official said he was prepared to convene such a meeting among the parties to the deal.
London, Paris and Berlin welcomed Biden's intention to return to diplomacy with Iran. But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fired back that it was for Washington to make the first move.
Iran began breaching the deal in 2019 after former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal and reimposed economic sanctions.
Tehran has accelerated its breaches in recent months and become locked in a standoff with Biden's administration over who should move first to save the accord.
"Instead of sophistry & putting onus on Iran, E3/EU must abide by own commitments & demand an end to Trump's legacy of #EconomicTerrorism against Iran," Zarif said in a tweet.
"Our remedial measures are a response to US/E3 violations. Remove the cause if you fear the effect," he continued. "We'll follow ACTION w/ (with) action."
A French diplomatic source said Washington's shift marked an opening for Iran but the path ahead was fraught with obstacles.
"The Americans said they were available to talk to Iran" in a meeting along with the original parties to the deal," he said after the talks in Paris. "It’s an opening."
Tehran has set a deadline of next week for Biden to begin reversing sanctions imposed by Trump, or says it will take its biggest step yet to breach the deal - banning short-notice inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog permitted under an Additional Protocol.
Britain, France and Germany, known collectively as the E3, and the United States called on Iran not to take any additional steps "with respect to the suspension of the Additional Protocol and to any limitations on IAEA verification activities in Iran".
The ministers said they were determined that Iran should not get a nuclear weapon and "expressed their shared concerns over Iran’s recent actions to produce both uranium enriched up to 20% and uranium metal", the statement added.
Refining uranium to high levels of fissile purity is a potential pathway to nuclear bombs, though Iran has long said it its enrichment programme is for peaceful energy purposes only.
Enrichment of 20% is well above the deal's 3.67% limit, though still well below the 90% that is weapons grade.
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