The US said on Thursday that it would accept an invitation from the EU’s foreign policy chief, known as the High Representative, to meet with Iran and the other signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal.
“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The statement is a hopeful sign for the preservation of the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has floated the idea of EU High Representative Joseph Borrel coordinating the actions needed to be taken by the US and Iran to revive the JCPOA.
Zarif’s suggestion offered a way out of the stand-off between the US and Iran over the deal. Before Thursday, the Biden administration was demanding that Iran scale back its nuclear activity to within the limits of the JCPOA and was not showing any signs of a willingness to compromise. Since the US is the party that violated the deal, Iran wanted Biden to act first, or at least attempt diplomacy.
Also on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a virtual meeting with the foreign ministers of the UK, France, and Germany where they discussed Iran. A statement from the four envoys also signaled the Biden administration’s willingness to talk with Iran. “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 statement said.
After the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 by reimposing sanctions, Iran waited a year for other signatories to offset those sanctions. After that year, Tehran gradually began increasing the activity of its civilian nuclear program.
The nuclear activity by Iran that has drawn the ire of the US is Tehran’s decision to enrich some uranium to 20 percent and begin developing some uranium metal, something Blinken and his European counterparts mentioned in their statement. “These activities have no credible civil justification. Uranium metal production is a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” the statement said.
But both the 20 percent enrichment and production of uranium metal have a civilian purpose. Uranium enriched at 20 percent is needed to make fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), a nuclear facility built by the US in the 1960s that can produce medical isotopes. To make the fuel rods, uranium metal is needed. Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that this is the purpose of the metal production.
Another step Iran is taking, which will take effect on February 23rd, is slightly limiting the IAEA’s ability to conduct short-notice nuclear inspections. Iranian officials have emphasized that this can be avoided if the US lifts sanctions. Both the 20 percent enrichment and the inspection limitation were required by a law passed by Iran’s parliament in the wake of the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed in an apparent Israeli plot.