China, Russia Demand 'Unconditional' U.S. Return to Iran Nuclear Deal

President Joe Biden is under pressure from three sides to return the U.S. immediately to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, as Washington, D.C. and Tehran both remain unwilling to make the first move.

China and Russia—two of the other Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signatories—are pushing the Biden administration for a full return to the 2015 accord under its original terms, as Iranian leaders continue to do the same.

Biden said during his election campaign that he wanted to reverse Donald Trump's 2018 decision to withdraw from the JCPOA. Trump embarked on a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, trying and failing to force Tehran to negotiate a new, more restrictive nuclear deal.

For Iran, Trump's withdrawal and sanctions mean it is Biden who must take the first step towards a thaw. Iran has expanded its nuclear activity since Trump's JCPOA withdrawal and its leaders are refusing to scale back the program until Biden lifts his predecessor's sanctions.

Russian officials have repeatedly urged the Trump and Biden administrations to return to the deal without any conditions. On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China backed "the unconditional return of the United States to the JCPOA as early as possible, its resumption of compliance and elimination of all relevant sanctions."

"On this basis Iran should resume full compliance," Wang added. "China is following the situation closely and maintaining close communication with all relevant sides. We support a step-by-step and reciprocal approach and will continue to work with relevant parties and the international community to bring the JCPOA back on track and promote the political settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue."

Russia's representative to the international organizations in Vienna said U.S. demands for Iran to make the first move would prove "fruitless." Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter: "This is high time for U.S. and Iran to make coordinated steps to restore full implementation of JCPOA."

Biden administration officials have warned that a return to the deal is not imminent, demanding that Iran curtail its nuclear expansion before talks can resume. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told CNN this week that Tehran would be open to a step-for-step return to compliance, with the European Union acting as a referee.

Zarif said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell could "choreograph the actions that are needed to be taken by the United States and the actions that are needed to be taken by Iran...The United States needs to come back into compliance and Iran will be ready immediately to respond. The timing is not the issue."

State Department spokesperson Ned Price, however, was lukewarm on the idea during a press conference on Wednesday, saying the administration was currently focused on consulting Congress and foreign allies on the JCPOA.

"We haven't ... had any discussions with the Iranians and I wouldn't expect we would until those initial steps go forward," Price said. "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."

Biden working in the Oval Office Harris
President Joe Biden signs executive orders as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on in the Oval Office of the White House on February 2. He is under pressure from Russia and China to return to the Iran nuclear deal. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images/Getty