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U.S. in talks with Iran over detained Americans

Published by The Nation on Mon, 22 Feb 2021

United States (U.S.) National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said yesterday that Washington has begun to communicate with Tehran regarding American prisoners held in Iran.Sullivan, who was interviewed by CBS News, did not elaborate on the details beyond the fact that contact has been made between the two countries.We intend to very directly communicate with the Iranians about the complete and utter outrage, the humanitarian catastrophe that is the unjust, unlawful detention of American citizens in Iran, Sullivan said, before being asked by Face of the Nation host Margaret Brennan as to whether the White House has done so yet.We have begun to communicate with the Iranians on this issue, yes, he replied. Our strong message to the Iranians will be that we will not accept a long-term proposition where they continue to hold Americans in an unjust and unlawful manner. It will be a significant priority of this administration to get these Americans safely back home.In an NBC News interview with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month, Blinken called on Tehran to free Americans imprisoned in its territory regardless of the United States return to the nuclear deal.Also yesterday, Iran said it had held fruitful discussions with UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi in Tehran, ahead of a deadline when it is set to restrict the agencys inspections unless the United States lifts painful sanctions.Grossis visit comes amid stepped-up efforts between U.S. President Joe Bidens administration, European powers and Iran to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal that has been on the brink of collapse since Donald Trump withdrew from it.Irans Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, before meeting Grossi, signalled that the Islamic republic wants to avoid an impasse, but also warned it could step further away from its commitments if Washington does not lift the sanctions.Grossi, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), arrived in Tehran late Saturday and met with the head of the Iran Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi.Iran and the IAEA held fruitful discussions based on mutual respect, the result of which will be released this evening, Tehrans ambassador to the UN agency Kazem Gharibabadi wrote on Twitter.Grossi, who also met with Zarif later on Sunday, was due to hold a press conference when he returns to Vienna in the evening.Irans conservative-dominated parliament months ago demanded that, if the US does not lift sanctions by this Sunday, Iran suspend some IAEA inspections from Tuesday.But Iran has stressed it will not cease working with the IAEA or expel its inspectors.Zarif told Irans Press TV yesterday he would talk to Grossi about implementing Irans law while making sure not to create an impasse, so that he carries out the obligations to show that Irans nuclear programme remains peaceful.Irans deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said late Saturday the IAEAs inspection capability will be reduced by about 20-30 percent after the implementation of the parliaments law.Iran has notified the UN body it will suspend voluntary transparency measuresnotably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activityif the US fails to lift the sanctions Trump reimposed in 2018.Zarif said the law mandates the government to not provide the tapes of cameras at sites to the IAEA, adding that technical details would be discussed in Tehran.We are not violating the JCPOA, we are implementing remedial measures foreseen in the JCPOA itself, Zarif insisted, referring to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.Once everybody implements their part and their obligations, then there will be talks, and those talks will not be about changing or adding to the agreement.Biden has committed to rejoin talks on Tehrans nuclear programme, in a shift away from Trumps policy of maximum pressure towards the Islamic republic.Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready to return to its nuclear commitments, on the condition Washington makes the first move by lifting the sanctions that have heaped economic pain on Iran.Zarif said that, from Irans point of view, nothing has changed, as the Biden administration had so far followed the same Iran policy as his predecessor.
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