President Biden met with the leaders of Germany, France, and Great Britain Saturday for a strategy session on potential nuclear negotiations with Iran amid threatening signals from Tehran.
“They’re scheduled to resume,” Biden said cryptically when asked during the G20 meetings in Rome when he hoped the on-hold talks with the Islamic Republic would restart.
Biden huddled with Germany’s Angela Merkel — who reportedly called for the meeting — France’s Emmanuel Macron, and Britain’s Boris Johnson, a group known as the E3, to consider options as Tehran continues enriching uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Reporters were hustled away from the four leaders as they posed for photographers in a corner of the La Nuova convention center.
In a statement issued after their meeting, the four said that they “shared our grave and growing concern” that Iran “has accelerated the pace of provocative nuclear steps, such as the production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal” — materials that have no civilian uses.
“We expressed our determination to ensure that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon,” they said.
The US Treasury Department announced a fresh round of sanctions Friday on Iranian companies and individuals as punishment for a deadly July drone attack on a tanker off the coast of Oman.
The new sanctions came days after another drone strike on an American military base in Syria was blamed on an Iran-allied militia group.
Biden has promised that the US will rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which President Trump formally abandoned in 2018.
Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union remained party to the agreement, under which Iran pledged to refrain from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions.
But the UN’s atomic watchdog has said Iran is increasingly violating the terms of the deal — and talks aimed at bringing both Washington and Tehran back to the table halted in June, when Iran’s new president, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, took power.
There was no set agenda for Saturday’s side meeting, a senior administration official said. “They need to have private space to have a no-BS conversation about where we’re at and where we need to go,” the official told reporters Friday.
“It’s not entirely clear to me yet whether the Iranians are prepared to return to talks,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Thursday.
“We’re prepared to negotiate in good faith for a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA,” he told reporters traveling with Biden to Rome. “We hope they are as well.”
But Israeli leaders have pleaded with Biden not to rejoin the deal, and Republicans have slammed Biden’s intent to offer Iran an olive branch.
“Peace follows strength,” former Vice President Mike Pence said in Washington on Thursday, where he attended a conference on Iran policy.
“And with our current administration’s embrace with the JCPOA [and] the heartbreaking and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, our adversaries may be sensing weakness,” Pence said.