“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting . . . to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The Biden administration does not yet know if Iran would agree to meet, State Department officials said.
As it signaled a desire to meet with Iranian officials, the Biden administration also lifted Trump-era restrictions on the movement of Iranian diplomats in New York and formally rescinded a Trump administration effort to restore U.N. sanctions on Iran.
The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), criticized the Biden administration’s moves, calling them “concessions in an apparent attempt to re-enter the flawed Iran deal.”
State Department officials, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity under the terms of the conversation, rejected those criticisms, saying that “these are not concessions to Iran; these are concessions to common sense.”
The Trump administration withdrew from the Iran deal in 2018 and imposed heavy sanctions on Tehran that left the country’s economy in shambles. In response, Iran began enriching uranium at higher levels than allowed in the deal, putting it closer to being able to obtain a nuclear weapon.
President Biden has said he would lift sanctions on Iran if it returned to the terms of the deal. Iran has called on the Biden administration to first lift the sanctions. Besides overcoming disagreements over the sequencing of an agreement, the United States also intends to lengthen and strengthen the deal to restrain Iran’s ballistic missile program and curb its support for proxy militias across the Middle East. Iran opposed such terms during its negotiations with the Obama administration.
In a call with European foreign ministers on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would work with them to restore a deal he called “a key achievement of multilateral diplomacy.”
It remains unclear if Iran and world powers will be able to overcome the deep mistrust that resulted from the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement.
Expectation for a potential summit emerged on Thursday when Enrique Mora, the E.U.’s deputy secretary general for political affairs, said in a statement that it was a “critical moment” for the Iran deal that called for “intense talks with all participants and the U.S.”
“I am ready to invite them to an informal meeting to discuss the way forward,” he tweeted.
In advance of the U.S. announcement, the Biden administration on Thursday withdrew Trump’s invocation of the “snapback sanctions” at the United Nations. It was unclear what the practical impact would be because the move had largely failed amid opposition from the other members of the U.N. Security Council.
“The irony is that the Trump administration so fundamentally failed to convince the rest of the Security Council of its case, there isn’t actually that much damage to undo,” said Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at the International Crisis Group.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday that he hoped the Biden administration would come into compliance with the deal and lift the sanctions imposed on his country, according to Iranian state TV.
Democrats applauded the development, noting their view that the Trump administration’s maximum-pressure campaign had brought Iran close to obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“I welcome the Biden Administration’s announcement that it intends to pursue a renewed diplomatic effort, in close cooperation with our European allies,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.