March 4, 2021

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Iran doubles down on insistence US must lift sanctions to revive nuke talks

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Iran’s top diplomat insisted Sunday the United States must first lift economic sanctions imposed on it by the Trump administration before the nuclear pact can be revived. 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s remarks came as Tehran confirmed it will begin limiting additional international monitoring of its nuclear sites Tuesday, a move that for Iran represents another lean away from the accord exited by the U.S. in 2018.  

Zarif’s comments also follow an offer from President Joe Biden’s administration to meet with Iran and other world powers involved in negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal. 

“The United States must return to the deal and lift all sanctions … The United States is addicted to sanctions but they should know that Iran will not yield to pressure,” Zarif said in an interview with Iran’s state-run, English-language broadcaster Press TV.

Zarif did not definitively confirm Iran is rejecting Biden’s offer of diplomacy.

The nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, was negotiated by the U.S. with Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom.

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His weekend remarks reflect the position Iran has continually held since the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal. Iran has said it will only resume negotiations with the U.S. once the sanctions are lifted because it is Washington, not Tehran, that exited the accord.

The U.S. has so far been unwilling to take this first step, although an offer Thursday to hold talks by Biden was his administration’s first public attempt at renewed diplomacy. 

Zarif said International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) surveillance cameras at some of Iran’s nuclear sites would be shut off on Feb. 23., in line with a law passed by Iran’s Parliament. These cameras were installed as part of an “Additional Protocol” of the nuclear deal. Some nuclear inspectors will also be barred from the sites. 

The “Additional Protocol” is a voluntary agreement between Tehran and the IAEA reached as part of the nuclear agreement. Under the protocol with Iran, the IAEA “collects and analyzes hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by its sophisticated surveillance cameras,” the agency said in 2017, adding that it had placed “2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.”

Iran’s parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by Tuesday. The IAEA is the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

IAEA head Rafael Grossi is currently in Iran to discuss how to find “a mutually agreeable solution for the IAEA to continue essential verification activities in the country.”

Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal because he said it didn’t go far enough to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for terrorist groups in the region. But Biden and his secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have also repeatedly said the U.S. would only rejoin the agreement – and lift the crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration – if Iran first came back into compliance with the deal.

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In the Press TV interview, Zarif said the new access restrictions placed on the nuclear sites, as well as previous steps Iran has taken to enrich more uranium, were reversible.

“This is not a deadline for the world. This is not an ultimatum,” Zarif said. 

Mohammad Farahani, editor-in-chief of a news agency linked to Iran’s judiciary, said in an email that the U.S. sanctions that have targeted Iran’s oil and banking sectors have also impacted the country’s access to basic and humanitarian goods. 

“Iranians want these cruel sanctions lifted,” he said, adding that he saw no path to new diplomacy before the sanctions issue was addressed by the Biden administration.  

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