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Biden Administration Offers To Restart Diplomacy With Iran

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Biden administration is taking first steps to reopen diplomacy with Iran. The European Union says it is willing to host a meeting of all the signatories of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and the U.S. says it would attend. That is just the start of what could be a complicated job of reviving a deal that the Trump administration deserted. Joining us now to talk about this is NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.

Hey, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hi. So, first of all, just tell us what happened today.

KELEMEN: So the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, held a virtual meeting with the foreign ministers from the U.K., France and Germany. Those are the three European countries that were part of the nuclear deal. And afterwards, they put out a long statement urging Iran to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and restating that the U.S. would do the same. Now, the problem's always been kind of, who takes the first step? The European Union, which oversees the nuclear deal, announced later that, hey, the EU will host a meeting. The State Department said it would take up that offer. We don't know where or when such a meeting would take place, and State Department officials caution that this is the start of what could be a really painstaking process of getting both the U.S. and Iran back into the deal.

CHANG: Right. Well, is there any signal from Iran yet on whether they're even interested in coming back into compliance with the deal?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, Iran actually has been threatening to curb its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency by next week if the Biden administration doesn't start to ease sanctions, so they've been upping the pressure on their end. The U.S. and the EU are warning Iran to back off from that threat, especially given this opportunity for diplomacy. The IAEA is also making that case to Iran, so we'll see. I mean, one thing the State Department insisted on today was that the Biden administration isn't interested in making any concessions just to get back to the table.

CHANG: Right. Well, I see that critics of the Iran nuclear deal are already lining up against this position, arguing that the U.S. should just keep this tough line on Iran. How is the Biden administration responding to all of that?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, they argue that the maximum-pressure campaign of the Trump administration didn't work. Iran remains a threat in the region, and it has been ramping up its nuclear program in dangerous ways. They also say some of the things that the Trump administration did were gratuitous obstacles to diplomacy. That was their words today, so that was something else that they did today, Ailsa. They reversed a couple of things at the U.N. One is that the tight restrictions that Trump placed on Iranian diplomats at the U.N. - they could barely move around New York City. The Biden administration is easing those restrictions and going back to what it was before. The other issue at the U.N. was this issue of snapback sanctions. The Trump administration claimed that all U.N. sanctions were back in force. No one in the Security Council agreed to that. The Biden administration told the Security Council today that it's going back to where things were before, that a U.N. resolution that endorsed the Iran nuclear deal remains in place.

CHANG: That is NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.

Thank you, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.