The Biden administration said Thursday took the first major step toward restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, discarding former President Donald Trump’s "maximum pressure campaign" on the Islamic Republic by removing the restoration of United Nations re-imposed international sanctions.
Acting U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council to "hereby withdraws" three letters the Trump administration culminating from last September announcement that the United States had re-imposed U.N. sanctions on Tehran, due to it's "significant non-performance" with its obligations.
State Department officials also took steps in easing the tight travel restrictions placed on Iranian diplomats around the United Nations in New York during the Trump administration.
"The U.S. Mission to the United Nations up in New York has notified the Iranian mission that the United States is bringing the domestic travel controls on Iranian representatives back in line with those in place for several other missions to the UN. So essentially, returning to the status quo of the last few years before the last administration," a senior state department official told reporters in a background briefing.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken took part in a videoconference with three of its European counterparts Thursday, informing them they are seeking to restore the nuclear pact with Iran, which he said "was a key achievement of multilateral diplomacy."
Senior EU official, Enrique Mora, said that the nuclear deal is "at a critical moment."
"The #JCPOA at a critical moment. Intense talks with all participants and the US," Mora tweeted. "I am ready to invite them to an informal meeting to discuss the way forward."
In a joint statement from Blinken and E3 (France, Germany, and UK) foreign ministers, they expressed their grave concerns about these recent steps. However Blinken reiterated President Biden foreign policy desire to re-enter the Iran deal and said it was ready for the first step to enter talks with Iran.
"The E3 and the United States affirmed their shared objective of Iran’s return to full compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA. Secretary Blinken reiterated that, as President Biden has said, 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," the joint statement said.
The surprise announcement comes just days before the Feb. 23 deadline Iran parliament set in barring international inspectors from visiting undeclared nuclear facilities and conducting unannounced inspections of nuclear sites, unless the United States lifts sanctions reimposed by the Trump administration.
However, Biden previously said that the U.S. won’t make the first move to restart negotiations with Tehran as well as not lifting sanctions to convince Iran to participate in negotiations.
The Biden administration said that the president "certainly isn’t going to offer sanctions relief just to get Iran back to the table." However, Iranian officials shrugged off the statement, saying that Tehran was in no hurry for the U.S. to rejoin the nuclear deal, and it's first priority for Iran is getting sanctions relief over the survival of the nuclear pact.
Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal in 2018, saying it didn't go far enough to curb Iran's ballistic missile program and its support for terrorist groups in the region. Since then, Iran began resuming production of enriching uranium, exceeding six times the limits imposed in the nuclear pact to now 20% earlier this year. The 2015 deal limited Iran to 3.67% purity.
After informing that it had restarted enriching uranium, Iran said it was prepared to produce uranium metal, the core of a nuclear weapon and also stockpiling more than 10 times as much low-enriched uranium as the nuclear accord would allow and slashed the time it would take for Tehran to produce the grade of fuel needed for a nuclear weapon.
Tehran vowed to restrict the United Nations nuclear inspectors access of inspections of its nuclear sites, one of the key compliance of the Iran Deal, and further boost uranium enrichment unless the U.S. moved first by dropping its sanctions.
"If they want Iran to return to its JCPOA commitments, the U.S. should lift all sanctions in action," Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in remarks published on his website earlier this month. "Once this is done, we will resume our JCPOA commitments."
Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, threatened E3 to push the U.S. to remove the economic sanctions imposed by Trump or "fear the effect," adding that Iran will not make the first move.
"Instead of sophistry & putting onus on Iran," Zarif tweeted. "The E3/EU mus abide by own commitments and demand an end to Trump's legacy of #EconomicTerrorism against Iran."
"Our remedial measures are a response to US/E3 violations. Remove the cause if you fear the effect," Zarif added. "We'll follow ACTION w/ action."
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
Our remedial measures are a response to US/E3 violations. Remove the cause if you fear the effect
We'll follow ACTION w/ action.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) February 18, 2021
The plan was denounced by a key congressional Republican.
"It is concerning the Biden administration is already making concessions in an apparent attempt to re-enter the flawed Iran deal," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement. "The Trump administration created leverage for President Biden on Iran—we should not squander that progress."