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US views EU-led Iran nuclear talks as a 'positive step'

Representatives from China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain will meet virtually with Iran on Friday to discuss the possible return of the United States to the nuclear accord.
Antony Blinken and Borrell

Iran and the remaining parties to the landmark nuclear agreement will meet virtually Friday to discuss a possible US return to the deal, an initiative welcomed by the Biden administration. 

Representatives from China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain “will discuss the prospect of a possible return of the United States to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and how to ensure the full and effective implementation of the agreement by all sides,” the European Union said in a statement. 

Senior EU official Enrique Mora will chair the virtual talks on behalf of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

President Joe Biden wants to rejoin the 2015 accord his predecessor withdrew from. But Iran and the United States are at a standoff over who should make the first move, with the Biden administration insisting Tehran return to full compliance under the JCPOA before the United States lifts sanctions. 

The United States welcomes the EU-led meeting as a “positive step, especially if it moves the ball forward on that mutual return to compliance,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters Thursday. 

"We are ready to pursue a return to compliance with our JCPOA commitments consistent with Iran also doing the same," he said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two sources told Reuters that Britain, France and Germany already held discussions with Iran on Monday. 

The meeting comes as Iran gears up for presidential elections in June, which could see President Hassan Rouhani replaced with a hard-liner less willing to work with the United States. Rouhani, a moderate who negotiated the original deal, sees its survival as part of his legacy.

During a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, he appeared to prod Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to revive talks with Washington. 

“We have to be more active than before,” Rouhani said. “We have to pursue negotiations daily and to eliminate sanctions.”

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