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Biden Says Iran Talks Needed to Avoid Mistakes in Mideast

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FILE - President Joe Biden delivers a foreign policy address as Vice President Kamala Harris listens, at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 4, 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday that the United States was driven to “reengage in negotiations” to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran by the desire to avoid missteps that could further destabilize the Middle East.

“We need transparency and communication to minimize the rise of strategic misunderstanding or mistakes,” Biden said at the virtual Munich Security Conference.

Challenges Are Steep as Biden Reengages With Iran
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Biden’s remarks came hours after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s said his country would reverse actions that violated the agreement with world powers if U.S. sanctions against the country were lifted.

“U.S. unconditionally & effectively lift all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labeled by Trump,” Zarif declared in a tweet. “We will then immediately reverse all remedial measures. Simple:#CommitActMeet.”

Biden’s willingness to join talks to revive the 2015 deal is a repudiation of Trump’s “maximum pressure" that aimed to isolate the Middle Eastern power and weaken its nuclear development program.

“Nuclear proliferation requires careful diplomacy and cooperation among us to avoid mistakes,” Biden said. “That’s why we are prepared to reengage in negotiations.”

Biden also promised to “work in close cooperation with our European and other partners” to “address Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East.”

The U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran after then-President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2018, causing relations to deteriorate between the two countries. Trump accused Iran of developing an illegal ballistic missile program and supporting terrorism in the region. He imposed new sanctions on vast swaths of Iran’s economy.

FILE - Participants in the Iran nuclear talks that culminated in the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are pictured during a meeting at the U.N. building in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015.
FILE - Participants in the Iran nuclear talks that culminated in the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are pictured during a meeting at the U.N. building in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) plus Germany sealed the deal negotiated by the Obama administration in July 2015 that required Iran to drastically scale back its nuclear program in return for economic relief. The deal was known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

Critics argue that the Biden administration should not consider a return to the deal.

"The Middle East of 2021 is not at all the Middle East of 2015 when the deal was negotiated, or 2018 even, when the U.S. left that accord,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

“And more importantly, Iran is in gross violation of that deal. Iran is hoping to weaponize time by adding more capability to its nuclear program, re-creating more facts on the ground and trying to push the Biden administration to as speedily as possible return to the deal or return to offering some kind of sanctions relief.”

In addition to Biden’s offer to return to the bargaining table, his administration’s appeal to Iran included the reversal of two symbolic actions taken by Trump.

The Biden administration reversed Trump’s determination that all U.N. sanctions on Iran be reinstated, and it relaxed stringent limits on the domestic travel of Iranian diplomats assigned to the United Nations.

The two actions drew criticism from Israel, which said it remained “committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons” and that it was in contact with the U.S. on the issue.

Iran has said the U.S. must start reversing sanctions by February 23 or it will ban short-notice inspections by the U.N.’s watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Henry Ridgwell contributed to this report.

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