Iran Warns Europe, Joe Biden Against 'Political Games' As IAEA Showdown Averted

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned fellow signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal against "political games" at a major meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency this week, amid suggestions that European nations would issue a formal condemnation of Iran's continued refusal to scale back its nuclear program.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the JCPOA's European signatories—Germany, France and the U.K., collectively known as the E3—had decided not to table a draft resolution censuring Iran for its nuclear program, which is now operating beyond that allowed under the JCPOA.

The Journal said the decision was made under pressure from the U.S., which was concerned about Iran's reaction if the resolution was adopted by the IAEA at this week's board of governors meeting.

Iran and the U.S. remain stuck in a stalemate over the proposed revival of the JCPOA, a step the E3 and fellow signatories Russia and China are all in favor of. Iran says Biden must lift sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump before it draws down its nuclear program, but the U.S. says it will not ease the measures until Iran is back in JCPOA compliance.

The Biden administration has made some overtures to Iran in recent weeks. The president rescinded United Nations sanctions on Iran that Trump claimed to have reimposed, though UN Security Council members disputed the so-called sanctions "snapback."

Biden's team has also said they are now willing to enter talks with fellow JCPOA nations, but Iran has so far rebuffed the offer.

The E3, often rankled by Trump's belligerent "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, appear set to act as referees for JCPOA revival.

Iran has regularly accused the Europeans of not doing enough to save the JCPOA during Trump's term, and reports that the E3 would censure Iran for its expanded nuclear program and restriction of IAEA inspector access further angered Tehran.

Rouhani warned Thursday that the IAEA was not the forum for political maneuvering. "There is no place for political work, and the three European countries must understand that there is no place for political games in this agency," the president said according to the state-run Fars News Agency. "They must put aside the political game and know that they are pursuing technical work."

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi had already warned Wednesday that an E3 censure was a "wrong move," the Tasnim News Agency reported. "We expect the other parties to seize the remaining opportunity for diplomacy and avoid any measure resulting in further damages to the current conditions," he said.

Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned of a "serious reaction" from Iran if the E3 tabled its resolution.

The immediate crisis has been averted, but Iran remains stubborn in its refusal of talks until Biden lifts the Trump-era sanctions. Iranian leaders have repeatedly warned Biden that he has a narrow window in which to come back to JCPOA compliance.

Rouhani and his officials will be out of office this summer when his term ends, and it is likely he will be replaced by a more conservative candidate, less open to the JCPOA and more attentive to the conservatives that now dominate Iran's parliament and are trying to undermine Rouhani.

The president urged Biden on Thursday to take action. "Please do not waste time, I explicitly say that wasting time and today and tomorrow will not benefit anyone," Rouhani said. "If time is wasted and something is delayed, the United States will be directly responsible."

Iran flag outside IAEA in Vienna
The Iranian national flag is seen outside the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters during the agency's Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, Austria on March 1, 2021. JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images/Getty