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Top Iranian official tells U.S. to ‘come back’ to nuclear deal

The United States and Iran remain in a stalemate over how to restart negotiations to manage the regime’s nuclear program, but Iranian officials are waiting for the U.S. to make the first move, says Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s atomic energy organization. The U.S. must come to the negotiating table before Iran will agree to discuss returning to the confines of the deal negotiated by the Obama administration in 2015, Salehi said.  

“Why do we want to complicate the issue?” Salehi asked the NewsHour’s Reza Sayah during an interview in Tehran. “The one who has left the JCPOA has to come back first,” he added, referring to the deal’s name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018, reimposing sanctions that were lifted as part of the agreement. The four other permanent members of the UN Security Council — China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom — plus Germany remain signed to the original agreement. 

After the U.S withdrawal, Iran began a series of actions in violation of the agreement, including, in January, enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, which would put Iran much closer to being able to build a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA prohibited Iran from enriching uranium past 3.67 percent for fifteen years.

Iran threatened to restrict the access of nuclear inspectors to key production facilities unless the United States removed sanctions by Feb. 23. When that deadline wasn’t met, Iran then reached a last-minute agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to hold on to recordings at the facilities for three months. However, Iran says they will delete the recordings if the U.S. does not lift sanctions by the three-month deadline..

“It’s easy to resolve the issue. Come back to the JCPOA and not let this happen,” Salehi told Sayah.

President Joe Biden signaled his intention before he took office to return to the nuclear deal, but  both sides are calling for the other to make policy changes before they will re-enter negotiations. The United States wants Iran to stop enriching uranium, but Iran says the U.S. must first lift sanctions. Last month, the U.S. said it would be willing to discuss a way forward if European representatives invited them to the table – an offer that was rejected by Iran.  

State Department press secretary Ned Price said of the most recent rebuffing, “our patience can’t be unlimited.”

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