World powers, Iran ready to welcome US return to nuclear deal

Iran and the major powers in the agreement to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons said on Friday that they were ready to welcome the return of the United States.

The countries that are still party to the agreement after the US left – China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and Iran – said the participants “emphasized their commitment to preserve the JCPOA and discussed methods to ensure its return to full and effective implementation,” according to a statement after their virtual meeting, referring to the abbreviation for the agreement – the joint comprehensive action plan.

The group said it would resume further talks next week in Vienna, “to clearly identify sanctions and measures for nuclear implementation.”

The statement also said that the group’s coordinator “will also intensify separate contacts in Vienna” with all participants in the nuclear agreement and the United States.

In Tehran, state television quoted Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s nuclear negotiator at Friday’s virtual meeting, as saying in the meeting that “the United States’ return to the nuclear deal does not require negotiation and the way is clear.”

“The United States can return to the deal and stop breaking the law in the same way that it withdrew from the deal and imposed illegal sanctions on Iran,” Araghchi was quoted as saying.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that “we obviously welcome this as a positive step”.

“We are ready to strive to return to our JCPOA commitments, which are consistent with Iran doing the same,” Price said Thursday.

The United States is talking to partners “about the best way to achieve this, including through a series of initial reciprocal steps,” he said.

“We have been looking at options to do so, even with indirect calls through our European partners,” Price added.

Friday was the first meeting of the so-called “Joint Commission” on Iran’s nuclear deal since US President Joe Biden took office.

The body overseeing the implementation of the JCPOA has been under threat since US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 and Iran began resuming nuclear operations, which it had reduced.

The online meeting was chaired by EU senior diplomat Enrique Mora on behalf of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Trump condemned the 2015 agreement, in which Iran is granted exemption from international sanctions in exchange for accepting borders for its nuclear program, which the Western powers feared would lead to the acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

But Biden has promised to rejoin the agreement, provided Tehran first returns to respect the commitments abandoned in retaliation for Trump’s decision.

Iraq renounces sanctions

The Foreign Ministry also confirmed on Thursday that the United States had granted Iraq an extension of a sanction waiver that made it possible to import Iranian gas.

The United States blacklisted Iran’s energy industry at the end of 2018 when it increased sanctions, but granted Baghdad a series of temporary exemptions in the hope that Iraq would turn away from Iranian energy by cooperating with US companies.

The 120-day extension comes before the start of a “strategic dialogue” between Washington and Baghdad, which will be opened via video conference on April 7.

“This renewal recognizes the recent success that the United States and Iraq have experienced through two rounds of our strategic dialogue with Baghdad, and several energy agreements also signed by the Iraqi government,” Price said.

He said the agreements “will ultimately enable Iraq to develop its energy security and, we hope, end its dependence on Iran.”

Earlier this month, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country could return to full compliance with the JCPOA if Tehran believes Washington has fulfilled its commitments.

The agreement was signed by Iran in Vienna in 2015 with the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, under an EU President.

It was designed to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring a nuclear arsenal by imposing strict limits on its nuclear program and forcing it to remain exclusively civil and peaceful.

( Jowharwith AFP and AP)