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Iran nuclear deal: Biden and European allies facing conundrum at the G20



Biden will be part of a discussion about Iran on the margins of the Group of 20 summit in Rome with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to sort out how to proceed. The meeting was convened at Merkel’s request.

The discussion comes one day after the US imposed new sanctions on Iran related to its drone program and less than a week after Tehran announced it would return to nuclear talks in Vienna with following a four-month hiatus.

The Iran nuclear deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was abandoned by the US under the Trump administration. And talks to resurrect the deal in Vienna were suspended in late June after six rounds between Iran, China, Germany, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and — indirectly — the United States.

White House officials say there isn’t one particular objective from the meeting. Instead, they say this is an attempt to sort out next steps and ensure all parties are on the same page.

“(T)he main purpose of the four of them getting together — this was actually a Merkel initiative — is we are at a critical moment, and these four leaders have not actually had the chance to sit and talk about Iran,” a senior administration official told reporters on Friday. “And they need to have private space to have the, you know, the no-B.S. conversation about where we’re at and where we need to go.”

The official called the meeting “a serious opportunity to check signals as we head into a really vital period on this issue.”

US officials are highly skeptical that renewed talks over how to handle Iran’s nuclear program will yield the desired results and are actively discussing imposing penalties on Tehran.

The officials say they want the US to return to the negotiating table at the end of November. But the negotiators selected by Iran’s new hardline leadership openly oppose the nuclear deal, leaving little optimism in Washington.

Sources in Washington told CNN there is an ongoing debate within the Biden administration about how to proceed and how much to increase the pressure on Iran.

One person familiar with discussions told CNN that Biden will discuss potential options during his G20 meetings with allies and that those costs could be imposed even as the Iran talks are underway.

However, they say the US and its allies are now more willing to impose a higher cost on Iran for failing to come to an agreement if Tehran continues to take actions that are inconsistent with the 2015 nuclear deal and bring it closer to developing a nuclear weapon.

A European diplomat said that Tehran’s willingness to restart talks is “not a solution, but it is a reasonably significant step forward.” This diplomat and others had seen Iran’s delay in returning to the talks in Vienna as a stalling tactic while the country continued to develop its nuclear program. Now, there is broad discussion about “pushing up the pressure” on Iran, this diplomat said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, briefing reporters en route to Rome, said Saturday’s meeting is an opportunity to “closely coordinate” with European counterparts “on a joint negotiating position as we work towards a resumption of negotiations” as well as “level set on our understanding of Iran’s progress on the nuclear program since they left the JCPOA.”

Sullivan said Thursday that it was “not entirely clear to (him) yet whether the Iranians are prepared to return the talks,” noting that “we have heard positive signals that they are but I think we have to wait and see when and whether they actually show up in the negotiating table.”

CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Nicole Gaouette and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.

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