US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said it remains unclear whether Iran is “ready and willing” to take the necessary steps to return to compliance with the multination nuclear agreement.
Speaking ahead of a fifth round of talks in Vienna on rescuing that deal, Blinken was asked Sunday about Iranian reports that Washington had already agreed to lift some of the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
“We know what sanctions would need to be lifted if they’re inconsistent with the nuclear agreement,” he said on ABC‘s “This Week.”
He added that more importantly, “Iran, I think, knows what it needs to do to come back into compliance on the nuclear side, and what we haven’t yet seen is whether Iran is ready and willing to make a decision.”
“That’s the test and we don’t yet have an answer.”
Donald Trump in 2018 walked away from the deal, saying Tehran had violated its “spirit” and remained a regional threat. His successor Joe Biden wants to revive the plan, and Blinken has been working with the other parties to the 2015 accord, to that end.
For that to happen, Washington would need to lift the sanctions reinstated by Trump while Tehran would have to re-commit to the terms of the deal, from which it progressively withdrew after Trump’s 2018 move.
“The lifting of Trump’s sanctions … is a legal & moral obligation. NOT negotiating leverage,” Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reacted to Blinken to Twitter. “Didn’t work for Trump — won’t work for you.” Also addressing Biden, Zarif said: “Trump’s legacy is past its expiration date. Drop it.”
Lifting Trump's sanctions, @SecBlinken, is a legal & moral obligation. NOT negotiating leverage.
Didn’t work for Trump—won't work for you.
Release the Iranian people’s $Billions held hostage abroad due to US bullying
Trump's legacy is past its expiration date. Drop it, @POTUS
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 24, 2021
‘Even Greater Impunity’
Almost a year after Trump walked away from the agreement, the Islamic republic started to gradually abandon most of the essential commitments in the accord.
The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, Blinken said, “clearly did not get the result that we all seek.”
Some opponents to the deal have argued that Tehran’s support of extremist groups and its arms proliferation mean it cannot be trusted to observe a nuclear pact.
Blinken argued rather that “an Iran with a nuclear weapon, or with the capability to build one in very short order, is going to act with even greater impunity in those areas.”
European participants to the Vienna talks had expressed optimism as the latest round of negotiations wound up on Wednesday.
“We’ve made good progress,” Enrique Mora, the European Union official who chaired the talks between Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain, and Iran, said in a tweet on Wednesday. “An agreement is shaping up.”
Just chaired a #JCPOA Joint Commission to wrap-up 4th round Vienna talks.We’ve made good progress. An agreement is shaping up. Now a common understanding on what still needed for US return to #JCPOA, lifting of related sanctions and the resumption of nuclear commitments by Iran pic.twitter.com/gCO3rSBZ2k
— Enrique Mora (@enriquemora_) May 19, 2021
Washington and Tehran have been taking part in indirect negotiations in the Austrian capital since early April, with the other five countries still party to the deal acting as intermediaries.
Diplomats are hoping to get the US back on board before Iranian presidential elections on June 18.
Meantime, the International Atomic Energy Agency on Sunday said it was delaying until Monday a Vienna news conference by its director general, Rafael Mariano Grossi.
It said Grossi was “continuing consultations with Tehran regarding the technical understanding between Iran and the UN agency.”
Tehran in late February limited the IAEA’s access to the nuclear sites it has been monitoring. The agreement reached on February 21 for a duration of three months, allowed some inspections to continue while the Vienna talks play out.