Iran’s Zarif urges Biden to make a speedy return to nuclear deal

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says time ‘running out’ for the US to ease sanctions.

The 2015 deal saw Tehran curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief [File: Russian Foreign Ministry/AFP]

Iran’s foreign minister has urged the United States to act fast to return to the 2015 nuclear accord, noting that legislation passed by parliament forces the government to harden its nuclear stance if US sanctions are not eased by February 21.

Mohammad Javad Zarif also referred to the presidential election in Iran in June. If a hardline president is elected, this could further jeopardise the deal.

“Time is running out for the Americans, both because of the parliament bill and the election atmosphere that will follow the Iranian New Year,” Zarif said in an interview with Hamshahri newspaper published on Saturday. Iran’s new year begins on March 21.

The parliament, dominated by hardliners, passed the legislation in December that set a two-month deadline for an easing of sanctions.

The 2015 deal between Iran and world powers saw Tehran curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and imposed a campaign of “maximum pressure” sanctions against Tehran. In response to the US move, Iran has loosened its adherence to the deal’s provisions on uranium enrichment and stockpiling.

Biden has said if Tehran returned to strict compliance with the pact, Washington would follow suit and use that as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s missile development and regional activities.

Tehran has insisted that Washington ease sanctions before it resumes nuclear compliance, and ruled out negotiations on wider security issues.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Iran on Friday in a virtual meeting with his British, French and German counterparts as the group weighed how to revive the deal.

“The more America procrastinates, the more it will lose … it will appear that Mr Biden’s administration doesn’t want to rid itself of Trump’s failed legacy,” Zarif said in the interview.

“We don’t need to return to the negotiating table. It’s America that has to find the ticket to come to the table,” he added.

On Monday, Zarif hinted at a way to resolve the impasse over which side moves first, by saying the steps could be synchronised by a top European Union official.

Asked about the proposal, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday that the US is “prepared to walk the path of diplomacy – if Iran resumes that full compliance” with the agreement.

Yemen stance

Separately, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that a new US stand on the Yemen war could be a helpful step.

Biden on Thursday announced an end to the US support for the Saudi Arabia-led conflict, indicating that the new administration is planning a more active US role in efforts to end the country’s civil war.

However, the ending of US support for the offensive will not affect any US operations against the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, group, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

“Stopping support … for the Saudi coalition, if not a political manoeuvre, could be a step towards correcting past mistakes,” state media quoted ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying.

But he added, “This alone won’t solve Yemen’s problem, and the air, sea and land blockade that killed thousands of people in the country due to a lack of food and medicine must be lifted, and the military attacks of the aggressor states led by Saudi Arabia must be ended”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies