Top US diplomat Blinken sees long road to Iran deal

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The United States will only return to the Iran nuclear deal once Tehran meets its commitments, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, warning of a long road ahead until the process is verified.

On his first full day as the top US diplomat, Blinken confirmed President Joe Biden’s willingness to return to the 2015 deal from which his predecessor withdrew, but rejected Iranian pressure for the US to act first.

“Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts. And it would take some time, should it make the decision to do so, for it to come back into compliance and time for us then to assess whether it was meeting its obligations,” Blinken told a news conference.

“We’re not there yet, to say the least.”

He declined to say which US official would lead talks with Iran but said “we will bring to bear different perspectives on the issue.”

If Iran returns to the deal, Washington would seek to build what Blinken called a “longer and stronger agreement” that would deal with other “deeply problematic” issues.

He did not name these but Biden has said they include Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and its support for proxy forces in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under former President Barack Obama and subsequently slapped punishing sanctions.

The nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed by Iran and six leading countries in 2015 and committed Iran to restricting its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief from the US and others.

Iran responded to Trump’s sanctions by reducing its compliance with the deal.

“President Biden has been very clear in saying that if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same thing,” Blinken said.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has demanded that the US first come into compliance by ending the Trump sanctions, which include a sweeping effort to end Tehran’s key export of oil.

Iranian officials fear that Biden’s Democratic party, which holds a slim majority in Congress, will struggle to push through measures that lift sanctions on Tehran in exchange for its compliance.

Tehran and Washington have displayed military might in recent months amid heightened tensions between the two foes. The US slapped sanctions on Iran in the final days of the Trump presidency.

On Tuesday, Israel’s top general warned attack plans against Iran were being revised and said any US return to the 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran would be “wrong”.

But Tehran dismissed the Israeli threat as a “psychological war”.

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