This article was originally published Feb. 19, 2021, on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Iran says it will “immediately reverse” its actions that contradict a 2015 nuclear agreement once U.S. sanctions are lifted after Washington said it was ready to revive the deal that former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 before reimposing the crippling penalties on Tehran.
When sanctions are lifted, “we will then immediately reverse all remedial measures. Simple,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a post on Twitter on February 19.
In apparent moves to tamp down tensions with a bitter rival, the administration of President Joe Biden said on February 18 that it was prepared to meet with Iran over its nuclear program.
It also extended a diplomatic olive branch, easing “extremely restrictive” limits on movements of Iranian diplomats accredited at the New York-headquartered United Nations as well as notifying the UN Security Council that it had withdrawn then-President Donald Trump’s September 2020 invocation of the so-called “snapback” mechanism under which it insisted that all UN sanctions against Iran were to be reimposed.
Reuters reported on February 19 that a senior Iranian official said Tehran was considering Washington’s offer to talk about the revival of the deal.
“But first they should return to the deal. Then within the framework of the 2015 deal, a mechanism to basically synchronize steps can be discussed,” said the official, whom the news agency did not name.
Despite leaving the deal, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had insisted the United States was still technically a party to it and that Washington was triggering UN sanctions for Iranian violations.
However, even U.S. allies dismissed Pompeo’s argument and the UN said no such sanctions would come into effect.
The series of moves represents a change in tone with regard to relations between Washington and Tehran.
Trump had taken a hard line with Iran, accusing it of fomenting extremist violence in the Middle East and of attempting to develop nuclear weapons, allegations Tehran has denied.
In May 2018, Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran. In turn, Iran began breaching terms of the accord.
President Joe Biden has expressed a willingness to reengage with Tehran, although he has insisted it must return to the terms of the 2015 deal before it would discuss the possibility of easing sanctions.
The State Department said the United States would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of the signees of the nuclear deal.
Washington has not participated in such meetings since Trump withdrew from the agreement.
An invitation has not yet been issued, but one is expected shortly, following discussions on February 18 among top U.S., British, French, and German diplomats.
Meanwhile, the U.S. mission to the UN said the United States was easing tough restrictions imposed by the Trump administration on movements of Iranian UN diplomats.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that it was a “good thing” Washington was no longer calling for international sanctions on Iran, though ultimately work remained to bring back full adherence to the deal.
“It is the restoration of the JCPOA regime that is important,” he said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the Iran deal is formally known.
Trump in 2019 barred Iranian diplomats from all but a few blocks around the UN headquarters and their mission.
Iranian diplomats will still be subject to restrictions on diplomats linked to nations with poor relations with the United States, such as North Korea, the State Department said. Those require authorization to travel beyond a 40-kilometer radius from Manhattan.
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