US won’t unilaterally lift Trump era sanctions against Iran

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The United States has no plans to meet Tehran’s demand that it lift Trump-era sanctions against Iran as a prerequisite to holding talks to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

“There’s no plan to take additional steps in advance of having a conversation — a diplomatic conversation,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told a reporter aboard Air Force One on Friday en route to Michigan. She spoke in direct response to a question on the matter.

“We don’t anticipate taking additional steps, as in snapback — snapping back of [US] sanctions [against Iran] in advance of that,” she stated.

The United States said on Thursday it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the deal that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, which Trump, abandoned nearly three years ago.

Tehran and Washington have been at odds over who should take the first step to revive the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iran says the United States must first lift US sanctions while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal.

In his first big appearance as president on the global stage, an online “virtual visit” to Europe, US President Joe Biden briefly addressed the Iranian nuclear program.

“We have said we’re prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program, he said at the Munich Security Conference. “We must also address Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East, and we’re going to work in close cooperation with our European and other partners as we proceed.”

Psaki later clarified that any conversations about a return to the deal would be conducted together with the other signatories to the deal and won’t  be held directly with Iran.

Israel warned Friday that US moves to return to the deal were dangerous. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a vocal opponent of the deal from its inception. He has argued that it leaves Iran with the capacity to develop nuclear weapons and does not address other issues such as Tehran’s ballistic missiles program.

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“Israel remains committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and its position on the nuclear agreement has not changed,” the Prime Minister’s Office said on Friday.

“Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. Israel is in close contact with the United States on this matter,” it added.

Iran reacted coolly, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif saying Tehran will “immediately reverse” actions in its nuclear program once US sanctions are lifted.

Under the deal, Iran accepted curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions. Washington reimposed sanctions after Trump quit the deal, and Iran responded by violating some of the deal’s nuclear limits.

Asked if the Biden administration was considering an executive order about reviving the agreement, Psaki noted the European Union has floated the idea of a conversation between Iran and the six major powers that struck the agreement: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

“The Europeans have invited us and … it is simply an invitation to have a conversation, a diplomatic conversation. We don’t need additional administrative steps to participate in that conversation,” she said.

The European Union is working on organizing an informal meeting with all participants of the Iran deal and the United States, a senior EU official said on Friday.

Separately, US acting Ambassador Richard Mills told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that his country was rescinding a Trump administration call for the UN to snapback the International sanctions it had lifted against Iran in 2015 in exchange for the JCPOA.

The Trump administration insisted it had the sole power to make that decision as a former signatory to the deal and that the UN Security Council must follow suit. The UNSC rejected that request. The Biden administration has now formally rescinded the request.

The international sanctions would have also included an arms embargo.

Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, said on Friday that “regardless of the UN’s Iran sanctions architecture, we will continue to use our authorities to dissuade countries from providing arms to Iran.”

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Addressing the administration’s announcement that it won’t seek to use the “snapback” mechanism, Price said “at present, no other members of the Security Council agree that previously terminated provisions of prior resolutions snapped back in December, despite the position of the previous administration.”

“When we were out of step with the other members of the Security Council, that deadlock weakened our ability to address Iran’s destabilizing activities,” he continued. “And reversing our snapback position, we calculated, would strengthen our ability to engage with the Security Council and with our closest allies and partners around the world on Iran.”

He went on to say that “reversing our snapback position, strengthens our ability to engage with the Security Council on Iran, given that no other Security Council member agreed that snapback had occurred.”

The US did, however, rescind some of its bans on the movement of Iranian officials who represent their country at the UN headquarters in New York.

Several Jewish organizations reacted to the news about possible renewed negotiations between the US and Iran. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said that tough global sanctions brought Iran to the table in 2014/2015. “To get the “longer, stronger” and broader deal necessary to thwart Iranian aggression,” they called on Biden not to “fall for Tehran’s threats, work with regional allies, keep the pressure on.”

AIPAC tweeted that the US must continue to maintain pressure on the Iranian regime as it advances its nuclear program, destabilizes the region, and arms its terror proxies. “The administration must reaffirm that US sanctions on Iranian arms trafficking remain in place and will be strictly enforced,” AIPAC added.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) issued a statement expressing “deep concern” at the Biden administration’s position on rejoining the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Matt Brooks, RJC’s Executive Director, said that the US is “already making concessions to Iran even before Iran comes into full compliance with the JCPOA.”

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“The Biden administration is reverting right back to the counter-productive policies of the Obama-Biden years,” he added.

He went on to say that “before taking a single step toward returning to negotiations with Iran, we should be insisting that Iran fulfill their existing international obligations.”

“Iran must be transparent about their nuclear weapons program, cease their illegal ballistic missile program, end their funding of terrorism, and stop holding hostage innocent citizens of the US, and our allies,” Brooks added.

He argued that “it would be a historic mistake for the Biden administration to pursue an Iran policy based on weakness and concessions.”

The progressive group J Street, on the other hand, voiced support for returning to negotiations. “We hope that serious discussion between the members of the P5+1 can begin soon,” the group said in a statement.

“It’s no surprise that those who have always opposed meaningful diplomacy with Iran are now furiously rehashing their old arguments in response to these developments,” the statement reads. “Those arguments have been conclusively disproven by the success of the JCPOA when it was fully implemented and by the devastating consequences of Trump’s breaking the agreement and abandoning good-faith diplomacy in favor of sanctions and belligerence.”

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