Biden's Attempt to Appease Iran Off to a Rocky Start as Tehran Rebuffs His Overtures


The Biden administration’s early efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are getting a chilly response from Tehran.

Having made several significant overtures to Iran in its first weeks in office, the administration’s outreach has been all but shunned by the Iranians.

They had already rejected President Joe Biden’s opening gambit: a U.S. return to the deal from which President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.

Iran is shaping up to be a major test of the Biden administration’s foreign policy, which the president has said will reverse Trump’s “America First” approach.

Although there are other hot-button issues, Iran has a particular significance for Biden’s top national security aides.

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They include Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security advisor Jake Sullivan and special envoy for Iran Rob Malley, all of whom were intimately involved in crafting the 2015 deal under President Barack Obama and may have personal stakes in salvaging it.

Biden took office pledging to undo Trump’s pullout from the deal, which gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Just last week, Biden agreed to return to talks with Iran about reviving the deal, rescinded Trump’s determination that all U.N. sanctions on Iran must be restored, and eased travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.

But Iran has held firm to demands that it will not respond to anything less than a full lifting of the sanctions Trump reimposed.

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Over the weekend, Iran made good on a threat to suspend adherence to a U.N. agreement allowing inspections of its declared nuclear sites.

Although it stopped short of ordering the removal of international inspectors, Iran reduced cooperation with them and vowed to revisit the step in three months if sanctions aren’t removed.

On Monday, Blinken reaffirmed that the U.S. is prepared to return to the nuclear deal provided Tehran shows “strict compliance” with it.

Speaking to the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Blinken said the U.S. is committed to ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon and pledged to work to “lengthen and strengthen” the deal struck between Iran and Germany, France, Britain, Russia, China and the U.S.

Just 24 hours earlier, though, Iran had rejected entreaties to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

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While Iran did not expel the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is charged with monitoring Iranian compliance with the deal, it did end the agency’s access to video from cameras installed at a number of sites.

There was no immediate response to that development from the U.S., but on Monday the White House and State Department both downplayed the significance of the move.

“Our view is that diplomacy is the best path forward to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

“That does not mean they have clearly not taken the steps needed to comply and we have not taken any steps or made any indication that we are going to meet the demands that they are putting forward either.”

At the State Department, spokesman Ned Price praised the IAEA for its “professionalism” in keeping inspectors in the country despite Iran’s threat to expel them on Tuesday. He said the U.S. supports IAEA chief Rafael Grossi and lamented Tehran’s refusal to comply with inspections.

Price said the administration was concerned that Iran was going in the wrong direction but would not comment on the administration’s view of whether its diplomacy to date had achieved results. Nor was he prepared to say what the administration might do to force Iran back into compliance with the deal.

“The United States is willing to meet with the Iranians to hash out these difficult, complex questions,” Price said.

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