US-Iran ‘path to diplomacy’ now open, says Antony Blinken

Blinken reaffirmed Biden’s stance that if Tehran resumes compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, the US would as well

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to the State Department in Washington, U.S., February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that “the path to diplomacy is open” with Iran to discuss returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.

But he would not say whether the new administration has had any direct engagement with Iranian officials.

"Iran is still a way away from being in compliance [with the deal]. So we'll have to see what it does," Mr Blinken told National Public Radio.

Asked whether a move was under way to resume direct diplomacy, Mr Blinken pointed to US President Joe Biden’s public stance that if Iran resumes compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, Washington would do the same.

“The president’s been very clear publicly, repeatedly, about where we stand. And we’ll see what, if any, reaction Iran has to that,” he said.

The interviewer said Mr Blinken had not answered the question directly and asked: “But you’re not ruling out that direct diplomacy might be somewhere in the future here?”

Mr Blinken responded: “Well, at some point, presumably, if there’s going to be any engagement on this, that would have to require diplomacy. That’s what we’re in the business of.”

In 2018, former US President Donald Trump abandoned the nuclear deal. It had limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity, making it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms – an ambition Iran has long denied having – in return for the easing of sanctions by the US and other powers.

When Mr Trump left the agreement, which Tehran struck with seven countries and the EU, he reimposed sanctions on Iran’s economy.

In response, Iran breached the deal’s key limits, enriching uranium to 20 per cent – above a 3.67 per cent cap but below the 90 per cent needed for weapons – expanding its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and using advanced centrifuges for enrichment.

Iran has told the UN nuclear watchdog it will scale back co-operation with the  body in a week, increasing protests against the US sanctions that continue to choke its economy.