Talks of the US returning to the 2015 Iran deal have reportedly been underway in New York for about three weeks, between people in the Biden administration and Iranian, according to a source close to the matter speaking to the French newspaper Le Figaro, as reported by Maariv, the sister publication of The Jerusalem Post.
Important European players – including France, Britain, and Germany – apparently were not aware of the talks.
"We'll know pretty soon if the efforts [in returning to the deal] have been successful," the source told Le Figaro.
The Trump administration left the deal in 2018, but Biden has been clear about his desire to return to the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It was signed by Iran and the six world powers: the US, Russian, China, France, Germany and Great Britain.
Should the US re-enter the deal, the source explained, a few sanctions placed on Iran might be removed, including the ban on selling oil.
It is important to note that the official who allegedly spoke with Iranian representatives has not been named.
While it is illegal for an actual member of the administration to meet with foreign officials in an unofficial capacity, it is allowed for anyone else, even if they are in federal circles.
A contrasting example is former president Donald Trump's security adviser Michael Flynn. A retired Army general, Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about interactions he had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in the weeks leading up to Trump's inauguration that January.
Similar media reports have surfaced about possible talks between representatives of the Biden administration and Israeli officials, prior to the Wednesday inauguration of US President Joe Biden. Israel has denied those reports. Such pre-election communication would be illegal under US law.
But both incoming US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki have been clear about Biden's desire to engage with Israel and representatives of other countries prior to making any decisions.
Washington seeks to lengthen and strengthen the nuclear constraints on Iran through diplomacy, and the issue will be part of Biden's early talks with foreign counterparts and allies, Psaki said on Wednesday.
Biden has said that if Tehran resumes strict compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement – under which Iran restrained its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions – Washington would, too.
"The president has made clear that he believes that through follow-on diplomacy, the United States seeks to lengthen and strengthen nuclear constraints on Iran and address other issues of concern. Iran must resume compliance with significant nuclear constraints under the deal in order for that to proceed," Psaki said in a briefing.
"We would expect that some of his earlier conversations with foreign counterparts and foreign leaders will be with partners and allies, and you would certainly anticipate that this would be part of the discussions," Psaki added.
On Tuesday, Blinken said America did not face a quick decision on whether to rejoin the nuclear deal, adding that the Democratic president would need to see what Iran actually did to resume complying with the pact.
Iran in return has gradually breached key limits on its nuclear activity set in the deal, building up its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, enriching uranium to higher levels of purity and installing centrifuges in ways barred by the deal.
Iran called for action and "not just words" shortly after Biden was sworn in as president on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted.
"The world knows that only the US can fix itself – in practice; not just words," Khatibzadeh said in a Twitter post.The DIPLOMATIC VANDALISM of Trump, Pompeo & co stemmed partly from a broken institutional process. But that same process-when "functional"-produced disasters like wars in Iraq, Afghanistan & Vietnam.The world knows that only the US can fix itself - in practice; not just words. pic.twitter.com/95CVkBgCVw— Saeed Khatibzadeh (@SKhatibzadeh) January 20, 2021