Blinken Says Iran Should Move First to Restart Nuclear Deal

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. will meet its commitments under the Iran nuclear deal only after leaders in Tehran do so, highlighting a dispute that’s set to become one of the Biden administration’s most politically charged foreign-policy challenges.

In his first briefing as America’s top diplomat, Blinken told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. wants to start meeting its obligations again under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.

Blinken said after Iran returns to the agreement the U.S. would seek to build a “longer and stronger” accord to address what he called “deeply problematic” issues. But, he emphasized, Iran needs to act first and any U.S. return may take a while. He didn’t set a timetable on the reduction of U.S. sanctions or a resumption of Iranian oil sales.

“We are a long ways from that point. Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts, and it will take some time, should it make a decision to do so, to come back into compliance, and time for us to assess whether it’s meeting its obligations,” Blinken told reporters. “So we’re not there yet, to say the least.”

That stance ran into swift opposition from Iran, which wants things to happen in the opposite order. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that his U.S. counterpart needed a “reality check” and urged, “Never forget Trump’s maximum failure.”

Iran plans to end international inspections of its nuclear sites and has already starting enriching uranium to 20% to try to pressure the U.S. to lift sanctions.

Blinken’s hands may also be tied by Republicans and some Democrats in Congress, who vehemently oppose the nuclear deal and will resist any effort to get back into it. That will pose an additional challenge for the new secretary of state given his pledge -- made in his confirmation hearing and again at the briefing Wednesday -- to work more closely with U.S. lawmakers.

Iranian leaders have their own pressures. With presidential elections set for June, they may take an unyielding line on the U.S. lifting the crippling sanctions, imposed after Trump quit the deal and ramped up the “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran.

Already, some of the provisions tied to the nuclear deal have expired, or will in the next few years. An embargo on selling arms to Iran expired late last year, although there’s little sign so far than any nation has rushed in to resume sales.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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