Administration Now Looking at a ‘Mutual Return to Compliance’ With JCPOA Instead of Iran Complying First

Patrick Goodenough | April 2, 2021 | 4:18am EDT
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Then-Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna in July 2015 with Iran nuclear deal partners, including Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, laughing. (Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)
Then-Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna in July 2015 with Iran nuclear deal partners, including Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, laughing. (Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)


( – The Biden administration is “ready to pursue a return to compliance with” the U.S. commitments under the Iran nuclear deal – “consistent with Iran also doing the same.”

The U.S. is now discussing with its partners in the accord “about the best way to achieve this, including through a series of initial mutual steps,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday.

The comments mark the latest of what appears to be a slow shift away from clear statements months ago declaring that Iran would have to return to full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) before the U.S. does.

Compliance for the U.S. would encompass reinstating the sanctions relief reversed by President Trump after he withdrew from the deal in 2018.

Compliance for Iran would entail reversing the steps the regime took in response, in violations of its obligations in the accord, including exceeding limits on purity of uranium enrichment and centrifuge numbers.

The European Union announced Thursday that it would host a virtual meeting on Friday of the JCPOA parties – Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran – and said they would “discuss the prospect of a possible return of the United States to the JCPOA and how to ensure the full and effective implementation of the agreement by all sides.”

The development comes more than a month after the regime rejected a U.S. offer to sit down with Iran and the other JCPOA parties “to discuss a diplomatic way forward.” Tehran insisted that the U.S. must lift all sanctions before any meeting can take place. (Earlier, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had declared that to be his “irreversible” stance.)

Administration officials since late February began to refer more often to a “mutual return to compliance” with the JCPOA, while remaining vague on the critical issue of sequencing.

For instance, Price said at several consecutive briefings in early March that the U.S. is “not dogmatic” about what form a resumption of compliance by the two sides takes. More recently, an unnamed administration official told Reuters, “It is absolutely not our position that Iran has to come into full compliance before we do anything.”

Contrast that with President Biden’s unequivocal position in a CBS News interview aired on Superbowl Sunday. Asked, “Will the U.S. lift sanctions first in order to get Iran back to the negotiating table?” Biden replied, “No.”

“They have to stop enriching uranium first?” asked interviewer Norah O’Donnell. Biden nodded.

While serving as a senior foreign policy advisor to the Biden campaign Antony Blinken – now secretary of state – was equally unambiguous about how a Biden administration would approach the issue.

“Iran would have to come back into full compliance, and unless and until it did, obviously, all sanctions would remain in place,” Blinken told an American Jewish Committee virtual global forum last summer. “And then, if we come back into compliance, we would use that as a platform with our partners and allies, who would be on the same side with us again, to negotiate a longer and stronger deal.”

Early this week Politico reported, citing unnamed sources, that the administration was planning to propose that Iran stops some of its non-compliant nuclear activities in return for some sanctions relief.

“Is the president willing to partially lift some sanctions on Iran in exchange of its return to the nuclear deal?” White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked at a briefing on Monday.

“That’s not under consideration,” she replied. 

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