US seeking ‘united front’ with Europe on Iran: top Biden aide

Reviving talks to curb Iran’s nuclear programme is a ‘priority’ for the United States administration, says Jake Sullivan.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan addresses press at the White House in Washington, DC [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

United States President Joe Biden will seek a “united front” with Europe on Iran policy as he travels across the Atlantic to attend two major summits in Rome and Glasgow later this week, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday about Biden’s upcoming trip, Sullivan said Biden will hold talks on Iran with partners from the E3, referring to the United Kingdom, France and Germany, the three European signatories to the Iran nuclear deal.

“Part of the reason the president wants to have the chance to coordinate closely with our European partners, particularly with the E3 who are part of the talks, is for us to have a united front after the four years of division on the Iran policy in the last administration,” Sullivan said.

A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the US, Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria on July 14, 2015 [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

Former US President Donald Trump nixed the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, angering Washington’s European allies.

Six rounds of talks in Vienna earlier this year have failed to restore the 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting international sanctions against its economy.

Sullivan said returning to negotiations in the Austrian capital, which have been suspended since June, is a “priority” for the US administration.

Iran has been advancing its nuclear programme beyond the limits set by the deal in response to US sanctions imposed by the US after Trump withdrew from the agreement.

“We are alarmed and concerned by the steps that they have taken since they left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” Sullivan said. “Within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, there were constraints on that programme that were significant and substantial. We had a lid on that programme. Now we do not because we don’t have that deal.”

Tehran maintains that it has not left the agreement, and that its violations of the deal are reciprocal measures to Washington’s official withdrawal from the JCPOA.

Biden will head to Rome on Thursday where he will participate in the Group of 20 (G20) conference; then he will take part in the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

The US president’s anticipated talks with allies in Europe over Iran come as European Union officials meet with Tehran in Brussels without Washington’s participation this week.

On Monday, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price welcomed the European-Iranian talks but said the “ultimate destination” for negotiations should be in Vienna, where the US can address issues that Iran may want to raise.

“The EU is the JCPOA coordinator, and we are very supportive of the EU’s engagement with Iran in that capacity,” Price said.

Iran has said it is willing to return to the negotiations in Vienna, but it wants the talks to result in lifting sanctions against its economy.

The Vienna talks had come to a halt shortly after the election of conservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

The US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, had said earlier in the week that efforts to revive the nuclear deal are entering a “critical phase”, suggesting that time is running out to restore the agreement.

Sullivan echoed Malley’s remarks on Tuesday. “We will be sending clear messages to the Iranians – as we have been doing over the course of the past few months – that this window is not unlimited, that we do need to see a return to diplomacy and progress at the diplomatic table,” Sullivan said.

But he stressed that there is still an opportunity to resolve the issue diplomatically.

Source: Al Jazeera