By Arshad Mohammed and Humeyra Pamuk
WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department reacted coolly on Tuesday to an Iranian suggestion that Washington and Tehran take synchronized steps to return to the Iran nuclear deal, though a U.S. official said the stance should not be seen as a rejection.
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had said one way to bridge the impasse with Washington was for an EU official to choreograph their steps to restore the 2015 pact abandoned in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump.
It was the first time Zarif had hinted Iran might relent in its demand that the United States ease economic sanctions before Tehran would resume compliance. The Biden administration has insisted Iran return to compliance before it would do so.
“We haven’t … had any discussions with the Iranians, and I wouldn’t expect we would until those initial steps go forward,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, referring to the Biden administration’s consultations with allies, partners and the U.S. Congress.
“There are (many) steps in that process … before we’re reaching the point where we are going to engage directly with the Iranians and willing to entertain any sort of proposal,” he added.
Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Price’s comments should not be taken as a rebuff of Zarif’s idea, but rather reflected the fact that Biden’s Iran team is just settling in and has committed to consult widely.
“There is no rejection,” this official said. “We have not begun negotiating with Iran, or with anyone else, because our priority is to consult” with partners in the nuclear deal and in the region.
Under the 2015 accord between Iran and six major powers, Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program, making it harder to develop nuclear weapons in return for relief from economic sanctions.
Trump abandoned the deal, which Iran struck with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, reimposed prior U.S. sanctions and placed new ones that have squeezed Iran‘s economy.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Leslie Adler, Howard Goller and David Gregorio)