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US says it is ready for direct talks with Iran over nuclear deal

The United States has said it would accept a European invitation to engage in direct talks with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on Thursday.

The P5+1 consists of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US, UK, France, China and Russia, plus Germany. The six countries are the original signatories to the 2015 agreement with Iran.

The comment from Washington came hours after Enrique Mora, the European Union’s deputy secretary general, said he was ready to invite the parties to “informal” talks.

“The #JCPOA at a critical moment. Intense talks with all participants and the US. I am ready to invite them to an informal meeting to discuss the way forward,” Mora wrote on Twitter.

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It is not clear whether the Iranian government, which insists that US sanctions must be lifted as the first step towards reinstating the pact, will agree to the meeting.

Under former President Donald Trump, the United States withdrew from the deal, which had seen Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions against its economy.

The previous administration then piled sanctions on various sectors of the Iranian economy as part of its maximum pressure campaign. As a result, Iran started loosening its adherence to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by enriching uranium beyond the limits set by the agreement.

The prospect of direct talks arose days ahead of an Iranian deadline for restricting the access of UN inspectors to the country’s nuclear facilities if sanctions are not lifted.

Earlier on Thursday, the E3, the three European participants in the deal, and the United States released a joint statement warning Iran against going through with that step.

“The E3 and the United States affirmed their shared objective of Iran’s return to full compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA,” the statement said.

The same communique reiterated Washington’s stance that Tehran must return to full compliance with the agreement before the US lifts sanctions but opened the door for negotiations over reviving the pact.

“Secretary Blinken reiterated that, as President Biden has said, if Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA, the United States will do the same and is prepared to engage in discussions with Iran toward that end,” it said.