Tehran, Iran – President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will not accept any preconditions in returning to the nuclear deal it signed with world powers and will not negotiate its missiles programme or regional activities.
The United States and European powers have said in recent weeks they remain committed to revitalising the nuclear deal – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – which outgoing US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in 2018.
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However, they said they expect Iran to negotiate on its contentious missiles programme and its support of proxies in the region – which the US and Europe maintain is destabilising the Middle East.
In his first news conference in Tehran since February when the first COVID-19 cases in Iran were identified, the president defied calls by the incoming Biden administration in the US and European powers.
“We will not accept any pre-conditions from anybody. Neither is the JCPOA negotiable, nor can we set it out on the negotiation table and discuss it part by part,” he said in the televised event.
“Either everyone will implement the JCPOA as it is or they don’t. If they do, we will too.”
‘Non-negotiable’ missiles programme
In an interview with Der Spiegel earlier this month, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suggested a “nuclear agreement plus” is needed.
But Rouhani was adamant these issues have nothing to do with the nuclear deal and cannot be broached.
“They had talked to us about these before. When the P5+1 was talking to us as part of the JCPOA they discussed all of this,” Rouhani said in reference to nuclear signatories – the US, France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and Germany.
“The US tried for months to include the missiles programme and we told them it’s non-negotiable. They tried for months to include regional issues as well. They were all discussed and rejected.”
The Iranian president said Trump was unaware of this, but President-elect Joe Biden – who was vice president when the JCPOA was signed under President Barack Obama – was there and knows all of this.
“What can be on the table is that everyone will return to their full commitments,” Rouhani said.
Compensation to Iran
A year after Trump left the nuclear deal and imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran, the Rouhani administration started gradually reducing its commitments under the nuclear deal.
Iran also maintains that Europe and other JCPOA signatories failed to fulfil their commitments as they refrained from dealing with Iran for fear of US reprisals.
However, Rouhani seemed to backtrack on a previous Iranian demand that the US must “compensate” for what its officials have proudly said have been billions of dollars in damages in the wake of sanctions.
He said if Iran were to get back what it is owed by the US, its demands could at least go back to a US-backed coup in 1953, which overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in favour of strengthening a monarchy that was friendly with Washington.
It would be unwise for Iran to demand preconditions for fully returning to the JCPOA, he said, especially as it would be difficult to ascertain which country has to pay how much.
“This would only mean sanctions would go on. If we say that, it would mean sanctions would continue for another five years, just as some have said it is a good thing,” he said in an apparent jibe at Mohsen Rezaei, the hardliner secretary of the Expediency Council, who said last week Iran would be under sanctions for five more years.
‘Era of sanctions is over’
Rouhani told reporters he remains confident that US sanctions on Iran will be lifted as Trump’s hawkish policy of “maximum pressure” has failed in the eyes of all world powers.
“I believe that the era of the economic war has come to an end. This war cannot go on, not because Trump has been defeated and Mr Biden has won. Even if Trump had won, he would be forced to do away with sanctions,” he said.
“The world won’t let this go on any more. It’s not to the benefit of the region. It’s not to the benefit of the US itself.”
In this vein, he defeated a proposal in his administration’s annual budget that the country will produce 2.3 million barrels of oil per day during the next Iranian calendar year that begins in late March 2021.
Rouhani also said he aims to take that further and go beyond Iran’s record of 2.8 million barrels per day that was exported before sanctions.
The president reiterated his criticism for a piece of legislation approved by the hardline parliament and the powerful vetting body the Guardian Council after a top nuclear scientist was assassinated near Tehran in late November.
He said the entire administration believes the legislation, which calls for the expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and increased uranium enrichment and stockpile, is “unproductive”.
Less than a week after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top scientist involved in Iran’s nuclear and missiles programmes, was assassinated in what Iran believes was a sophisticated operation by Israel, members of parliament passed the bill.
Rouhani said on Monday his government will draft and approve bylaws to start implementing the legislation within a week.