The United States and three European powers have backed reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal while expressing “growing concern” over its expanding program and reduced access for UN inspectors.
A joint statement issued after meetings at the G20 summit in Romesaid Iran had “accelerated the pace of provocative nuclear steps.”
President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson charged that Tehran had “halted negotiations” in Vienna on a return to the nuclear deal – the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The talks been suspended since June, first for Iran’s new administration to assess options and then Tehran’s unwillingness to resume negotiations.
The statement said Iran’s nuclear steps had been “made more alarming” because it had “simultaneously decreased cooperation and transparency with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).” Both the “nuclear advances” and “obstacles” to the IAEA’s work threatened to “jeopardize the possibility of a return to the JCPOA.”
Since Biden took office in January with a commitment to return to the JCPOA, which previous president Donald Trump left in 2018, he has looked to improve relations with the three European JCPOA signatories – France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
The so-called ‘E3,’ like the other signatories China and Russia, have stressed the need both for the US to return to the agreement by lifting the ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions imposed by Trump and for Iran to reverse a series of steps taken since 2019 in expanding its nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits.
Both Biden’s outreach to Europe and the accelerated pace of Iran’s nuclear program have brought the US and Europe closer.
The US-E3 statement also expressed commitment to “continuing to work closely” with Russia and China, who have stressed the US responsibility, as the party that left the JCPOA, to ensure the success of the Vienna talks.
While diplomats in Vienna said the talks made significant progress, the greatest challenges lay in agreeing which US sanctions were incompatible with the JCPOA and exactly how Iran’s developed program should be incorporated within JCPOA limits, including its use of more advanced centrifuges.
Reduced risk of a nuclear crisis
Saturday’s statement highlighted Iran’s production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal. “Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure,” the statement said.
Tehran began enriching to 20 percent in January, and reduced IAEA access, following last November’s assassination of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, and began enriching to 60 percent in April after sabotage at its Natanz enrichment site. Iran is barred under the JCPOA from enriching above 3.67 percent and until from producing uranium metal, used in fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.
The US-E3 statement also referred to “our Gulf partners’ regional diplomatic efforts to deescalate tensions,” an apparent reference to Iraq-brokered meetings between Iran and Saudi Arabia reportedly discussing the restoration of diplomatic relations and ending the war in Yemen. The statement suggested that a “return to the JCPOA” and the resulting easing of sanctions would allow “for enhanced regional partnerships and a reduced risk of a nuclear crisis that would derail regional diplomacy.”
At the same time, acknowledging Saudi concerns over Iran’s regional influence, the statement affirmed “our shared determination to address broader security concerns raised by Iran’s actions in the region.” Both Saudi Arabia and Israel opposed the JCPOA and have been adjusting both to the Biden administration’s commitment to revive the deal and its desire to reduce the US military presence in the region.