In major speech, Biden indicates US ready to reengage with Iran on nuke deal

President says US ‘prepared to reengage in negotiations’ within UN Security Council framework; tells Munich Security Conference: ‘We must tackle Iran’s destabilizing activity’

By AGENCIES and TOI STAFF19 February 2021, 7:37 pm  3

US President Joe Biden speaks virtually to the Munich Security Conference in Germany, from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2021. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

US President Joe Biden speaks virtually to the Munich Security Conference in Germany, from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2021. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

US President Joe Biden indicated Friday he is ready to reengage with Iran on the 2015 nuclear accord, which was abandoned by the Trump administration and which Iran has since been avowedly breaching.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference, Biden said his administration was ready to reenter talks with the UN Security Council on Tehran’s nuclear program.

“We’re prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program,” he said. The P5+1 countries are the six world powers that negotiated the deal with Iran — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

Biden said it was imperative that the United States work with other leading global powers to curb Iran’s “destabilizing” ambitions

“We must also address Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East, and we’re going to work in close cooperation with our European and other partners as we proceed,” Biden said, according to a transcript of the speech released by the White House.

Biden’s administration had said Thursday it was ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has demanded that the US lift sanctions before it returns to talks. It has also rejected discussing other issues, such as its regional activities.

Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have long opposed the agreement and repeatedly warned against the US returning to the deal.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Netanyahu said Israel believes the old agreement will “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”

Biden was making his first big appearance on the global stage as president, offering allies and other foreign leaders a glimpse into his plans to dramatically reshape US foreign policy even as he deals with a number of international crises that are coming to a head.

A picture taken on February 19, 2021 at the Elysee Palace in Paris shows the screen as French President Emmanuel Macron attend a video-conference meeting with US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during 2021 Munich Security Conference, amidst the coronavirus outbreak. (BENOIT TESSIER / POOL / AFP)

In advance of Biden’s virtual appearances at a G-7 meeting and the Munich Security Conference, the White House sought to underscore that the new administration will move quickly to reorient the US away from Donald Trump’s “America First” mantra by announcing major reversals of Trump administration policies.

Biden declared that the “transatlantic alliance is back,” and that “The United States is determined, determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, earn back our position of trusted leadership.”

He said his administration was again stressing alliance building, in contrast to Trump’s isolationist policies and abrasive treatment of US partners.

“Our partnerships have endured and grown through the years because they are rooted in the richness of our shared democratic values. They’re not transactional. They’re not extractive,” Biden said in clear reference to Trump’s emphasis on redefining allies as economic rivals.

Biden said he was not seeking a return to “the rigid blocs of the Cold War,” insisting that the international community must work together on issues like the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, even where deep disagreements exist on other issues.

But he delivered harsh warnings about the threats he said are posed by Russia and China.

“The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try and undermine our system of governance,” he said. President Vladimir Putin “seeks to weaken the European project and our NATO alliance.”

Again urging Western unity, Biden said, “it’s so much easier for the Kremlin to bully and threaten individual states than to negotiate with a strong, closely united transatlantic community.”

Similarly, US partners should stand together against “the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion that undercut the foundations of the international economic system,” he said.

“Chinese companies should be held to the same standard” as US and European companies facing onerous restrictions on their presence in China, he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a video-conference meeting with US President Joe Biden (on the screen), during 2021 Munich Security Conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris on February 19, 2021 amidst the coronavirus outbreak. (BENOIT TESSIER / POOL / AFP)

And he called on European allies to double down on commitments to fight climate change, warning of a “global existential crisis.”

“We can no longer delay or do the bare minimum to address climate change,” Biden said, just hours after the United States formally rejoined the Paris accord on global warming.

“This is a global existential crisis. We will all suffer consequences.”

“Our partnerships have endured and grown through the years because they are rooted in the richness of our shared democratic values,” Biden said. “They’re not transactional. They’re not extractive. They’re built on a vision of the future where every voice matters.”

His message was girded by an underlying argument that democracies — not autocracies — are models of governance that can best meet the challenges of the moment.

“We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future direction of our world,” Biden said. “Between those who argue that – given all of the challenges we face, from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic – autocracy is the best way forward and those who understand that democracy is essential to meeting those challenges.”

On Thursday at the United Nations, the Biden administration notified the Security Council that it had withdrawn Trump’s September 2020 invocation of the so-called “snapback” mechanism under which it maintained that all UN sanctions against Iran had been reimposed. That determination had been vigorously disputed by nearly all other UN members and had left the US isolated at the world body.

In another move, officials said the administration has eased extremely strict limits on the travel of Iranian diplomats accredited to the United Nations. The Trump administration had imposed the severe restrictions, which essentially confined them to their UN mission and the UN headquarters building in New York.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, June 16, 2020. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

“The idea here is to take steps to remove unnecessary obstacles to multilateral diplomacy by amending the restrictions on domestic travel. Those had been extremely restrictive,” a State Department official told reporters.

Also Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France urged Iran to allow continued United Nations nuclear inspections and stop nuclear activities that have no credible civilian use. They warned that Iran’s actions could threaten delicate efforts to bring the US back into the 2015 deal and end sanctions damaging Iran’s economy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the media in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 2, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Iran is “playing with fire,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who took part in the talks Thursday in Paris with his British and French counterparts. Blinken had joined via videoconference.

Iran has said it will stop part of International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities next week if the West doesn’t implement its own commitments under the 2015 deal. The accord has been unraveling since Trump pulled the US out of the agreement.

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