USA TODAY US Edition

US to hold indirect talks with Iran

EU official to facilitate nuclear deal negotiatio­ns

- Deirdre Shesgreen

WASHINGTON – The Biden administra­tion will participat­e in high-stakes multilater­al negotiatio­ns on Tuesday that could determine the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran will not hold direct talks, but both countries will have diplomats in Vienna for negotiatio­ns facilitate­d by a top European Union official and other parties to the 2015 agreement, including France, China and Russia. Under the Obama-era deal, Iran agreed to cap its nuclear enrichment, among other steps, in exchange for internatio­nal sanctions relief.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from agreement in 2018 and re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, arguing his “maximum pressure” campaign would force Iran to negotiate a broader agreement. But Iran rebuffed Trump’s entreaties and, amid a spike in U.S.-Iran tensions, Tehran began breaching the deal’s limits on its nuclear enrichment.

President Joe Biden has promised to return to the deal – if Iran comes back into compliance. But Washington and Tehran have been at loggerhead­s for months over who should take the first step.

Biden’s special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, said there is a sense of urgency because of how much enriched uranium Iran has amassed in recent years.

“They have 10 times more enriched uranium than they did” before the U.S. left the deal, Malley said in an interview Friday with the PBS NewsHour. “So by the simple test, are we better off today than we were then? No, we’re worse off.”

Malley will lead the U.S. delegation to Vienna.

Iran’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, said in a tweet on Friday the goal of Tuesday’s talks is to “Rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreograp­hed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures.”

“No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessar­y,” Zarif added.

Managing expectatio­ns

Tuesday’s talks in Vienna could involve crafting a roadmap back into compliance, although Biden administra­tion officials have played down the potential for quick progress.

Ned Price, the State Department’s chief spokesman, said the primary focus on Tuesday will be to determine what steps Iran would need to take to come back into compliance and what sanctions the U.S. would need to lift in return.

“We don’t anticipate an early or immediate breakthrou­gh,” Price told reporters on Monday. But he said the talks represente­d a “healthy step forward.”

Price said the U.S. remains open to direct talks with Iran but for now, the negotiatio­ns will unfold in “working groups” set up by the EU with other parties to the deal, including Iran.

Progressiv­es to Biden: Hurry up

Tuesday’s meeting comes as the Biden administra­tion faces conflictin­g political pressures at home over its dealings with Iran.

Progressiv­es are demanding a speedy U.S. return to the deal, arguing that any further delay is dangerous.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., suggested the Biden administra­tion is playing “a game of chicken” in the refusal to go first and lift sanctions on Iran.

“I don’t understand what the delay is,” Khanna said during a March 31 briefing hosted by liberal anti-war groups.

“Iran had 102 kilograms of enriched uranium when Trump took office. They have 2.5 tons of enriched uranium now.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the longer the Biden administra­tion waits, the harder it will be to revive the deal.

“The United States was the first to leave, and so, the United States shouldn’t be wary of taking the first step back into the agreement,” he said during the briefing. Murphy said he has publicly and privately urged Biden administra­tion officials to adopt “a compliance for compliance approach,” in which the U.S. and Iran synchroniz­e their steps back into the deal.

What about ballistic missiles, terrorist support?

But Republican­s and some hawkish Democrats want Biden to hold out for a broader deal that not only curbs Iran’s nuclear program but also limits its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorist groups, and other malign activities.

A bipartisan group of more than 40 senators – including the top Democrat and top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – recently sent a letter to Biden urging him to address concerns “beyond Tehran’s nuclear program” and to consult with Israel and other U.S. allies as it negotiates with Iran.

“Iran continues to pose a threat to U.S. and internatio­nal security through exporting arms, including highly accurate missiles, supporting Shia militias that target U.S. service members, and supporting terrorist organizati­ons and other malign actors throughout the region,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the committee’s chairman, wrote in the letter signed by a raft of other lawmakers.

“We also remain concerned about Iran’s continued human rights abuses of its own citizens and the increasing size and capabiliti­es of its ballistic and cruise missile programs,” the letter reads.

“They have 10 times more enriched uranium than they did” before the U.S. left the deal.

Rob Malley President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Iran

 ?? AP ?? A building was damaged by a fire at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Iran in 2020.
AP A building was damaged by a fire at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Iran in 2020.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA