The Biden administration says it is ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, in a sharp rejection of former President Donald Trump’s campaign that sought to isolate the Islamic Republic.
The administration also took two steps at the United Nations aimed at restoring policy to what it was before Mr Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
The combined actions were immediately criticised by anti-Iran hawks and are likely to draw concern from Israel and Gulf Arab states.
In addition to its willingness to talk with Iran, the administration also reversed Mr Trump’s determination that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored. It also eased stringent restrictions on the domestic travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the UN.
The State Department announced the moves following discussions between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his British, French and German counterparts, and as Mr Biden prepares to participate, albeit virtually, in his first major international events with world leaders.
The announcement came a day before Mr Biden was due to speak to leaders of the Group of Seven industrialised democracies and later in the day address the annual Munich Security Conference.
At both, Mr Biden is expected to discuss his commitment to multilateral diplomacy and his desire to undo damage that Mr Trump’s positions may have caused over the previous four years.
In a statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of the participants — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, along with Iran — in the original nuclear agreement.
“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 programme,” he said.
The US has not participated in a meeting of those participants since Mr Trump withdrew from the deal and began steadily ramping up sanctions on Iran.
Such an invitation has not yet been issued but one is expected shortly, following Mr Blinken’s talks with the British, French and German foreign ministers.
Meanwhile, at the UN, the administration notified the Security Council that it had withdrawn Mr Trump’s September 2020 invocation of the so-called “snapback” mechanism under which it maintained all UN sanctions against Iran had been re-imposed.
Those sanctions included a conventional arms embargo against Iran that had been set to expire.
Mr Trump’s determination had been vigorously disputed by nearly all other UN members and had left the US isolated at the world body.
Thus, the reversal is unlikely to have any immediate practical effect other than to bring the US back into line with the position of the vast majority of UN members, including some of its closest allies.
Acting US Ambassador to the UN Richard Mills sent a letter to the Security Council saying the US “hereby withdraws” three letters from the Trump administration that culminated in its September announcement that the US had re-imposed UN sanctions on Tehran due to it’s “significant non-performance” with its obligations.
Mr Trump’s move had been ignored by the rest of the Security Council and the world, and the overwhelming majority of members in the 15-nation council had called the action illegal because the US was no longer a member of the nuclear deal.
At the same time, officials said the administration has eased extremely strict limits on the travel of Iranian diplomats accredited to the UN.
The senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, denounced the steps.
“It is concerning the Biden Administration is already making concessions in an apparent attempt to re-enter the flawed Iran deal,” he said. “The Trump Administration created leverage for President Biden on Iran — we should not squander that progress.”
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Blinken and his European counterparts had urged Iran to allow continued UN nuclear inspections and stop nuclear activities that have no credible civilian use. They warned that Iran’s actions could threaten delicate efforts to bring the US back into the 2015 deal and end sanctions damaging Iran’s economy.
Iran is “playing with fire”, said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who took part in the talks on Thursday in Paris with his British and French counterparts. Mr Blinken had joined via videoconference.
Iran has said it will stop part of International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities next week if the West does not implement its own commitments under the 2015 deal. The accord has been unravelling since Mr Trump pulled the US out of the agreement.