20:31 GMT28 February 2021
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    The Biden administration has said that Iran must return to compliance with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal before the US can rejoin, and has urged the country to dramatically reduce its uranium enrichment activities. Tehran says Washington must lift its illegal sanctions first.

    Iran is nowhere near compliance with the terms of the JCPOA, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said.

    "Iran is a long way from compliance; our focus is on working with our partners and allies to engage and coordinate on a range of issues including the future of the Iran nuclear deal," Psaki said, speaking to reporters in a conference call briefing on Thursday.

    Asked to comment on Iran's plans to halt snap nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency starting next week unless the other parties to the nuclear accord fulfill their commitments, and whether this has motivated the administration in any way, Psaki indicated that Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to speak with the JCPOA's Western European signatories (the UK, France, and Germany) later Thursday on the matter.

    "Our focus is of course on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear [weapon]. But they are a long way from compliance, and our focus is also on working with our partners and allies, our priority I should say," the spokeswoman reiterated.

    Earlier Thursday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas accused Iran of "playing with fire" and seeking "escalation," and said that its inspections-related decision threatens the chances of Washington's return to the nuclear deal. 

    On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed Tehran's disappointment over the Biden administration's inability or unwillingness to change the Trump-era policy on Iran. "It has been a month now that the Biden administration has been continuing Trump's 'maximum pressure' policy of lawlessness, one-upmanship, and bullying," he said. The diplomat stressed that further pressure against Iran would not work, and urged Washington to give up on its "failed" approach.

    Zarif clarified that the 23 February deadline for snap IAEA inspections does not mean a complete end to cooperation with the nuclear watchdog, and that routine cooperation on inspections will continue, although no longer in intrusive, short-notice fashion.

    Hopes for a speedy US return to the JCPOA have faltered as the Biden administration has made demands that Iran dramatically reduce its uranium enrichment activities and return to full compliance with the agreement. Tehran has stressed that it is up to the US to show good faith, and to drop all sanctions against the Islamic Republic first.

    Last month, Iran reported achieving uranium enrichment levels of 20 percent, far above the 3.67 percent limit outlined by the JCPOA. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 90 percent or above. Tehran has said repeatedly that it has no plans to pursue nuclear weapons capability, but has also stressed its right to peaceful nuclear energy.

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