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Biden to talk Iran deal in early calls with foreign leaders, White House says

Incoming Biden administration officials have suggested a return to the nuclear deal is a long way off.
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20:  U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office just hours after his inauguration on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden became the 46th president of the United States earlier today during the ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Biden administration plans to hold early conversations with foreign leaders ahead of any effort to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. 

If Iran returns to strict compliance under the nuclear pact, President Joe Biden has said he will reenter the multilateral pact as a starting point for follow-on negotiations to “tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints” and address Iran's missile program. 

The 2015 agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, provided Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activity. Since the Donald Trump administration abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling economic sanctions, Iran has gradually violated the terms of the agreement to ramp up nuclear enrichment levels and its stockpile of uranium. 

“The president has made clear that he believes that through follow-on diplomacy, the United States seeks to lengthen and strengthen nuclear constraints on Iran and address other issues of concern. Iran must resume compliance with significant nuclear constraints under the deal in order for that to proceed,” Psaki said during her first White House briefing on Wednesday. 

“We would expect that some of his earlier conversations with foreign counterparts and foreign leaders will be with partners and allies and you would certainly anticipate that this would be part of the discussions,” said Psaki. 

During his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden’s secretary of state nominee, Antony Blinken, made similar commitments. The future top US diplomat said the administration would “engage on the takeoff, not just the landing” with allies and partners, including Israel and the Gulf, before taking steps to rejoin the landmark nuclear agreement. 

Both Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines indicated during their Senate hearings that a return to the deal was not imminent, with Haines saying "we are a long ways" from Iran meeting its commitments. In a major breach of the deal announced last week, Iran said it would resume production of uranium metal, a fuel used in nuclear reactors. 

Iran’s leaders, who insist their nuclear program is used only for peaceful purposes, have indicated they are ready to return to compliance — if Washington first lifts Trump-era sanctions. 

“Today, we are ready,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said this week. “If the other side acts honestly and returns to the law and obligations, the problems will be solved very quickly and there would be no legal complexities.”

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