Iran diplomat says window is closing for Biden to rejoin nuclear deal

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Iran’s highest-ranking diplomat in the United States warned the Biden administration it “must act quickly” to return to the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by former President Donald Trump “because the window is closing” on Tehran’s deadline for Washington to lift economic sanctions.

Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament has set a Feb. 21 deadline for Biden to lift U.S. sanctions as part of a move back into the now-breached agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. If the U.S. fails to act, Iran says, it will suspend some inspections of its nuclear sites by UN nuclear inspectors – a key provision of the accord – and further boost uranium enrichment.

“We have said time and again that if the U.S. decides to go back to its international commitments and lift all the illegal sanctions against Iran, we will go back to the full implementation of JCPOA, which will benefit all sides,” said Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, in exclusive remarks to USA TODAY.

Still, if Iran’s deadline passes without some kind of compromise it could effectively push Iran one step closer to the 90% uranium enrichment level required for a nuclear weapon. Iran has been enriching at around 20%, also a violation of the accord, as part of its response to the U.S. exit from the deal.

Ravanchi insisted in the interview the UN nuclear inspectors would not be expelled from Iran but that additional access to its nuclear sites it had been providing on a voluntary basis would be halted.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US will rejoin the accord, but only after Iran comes back into compliance. This means, in part, limiting uranium enrichment to just under 4%.

“President Biden has been very clear in saying that if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same thing,” Blinken told reporters on Wednesday.

Tehran wants Washington to rejoin on the same terms it left the accord. Ravanchi’s comments underscore the difficulties Iran and the U.S. face in resuming the nuclear diplomacy, as both sides insist the other must act first.

“The party that needs to change course is the United States, and not Iran,” said Ravanchi, who helped negotiate the agreement that Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2018. He said Iran cannot accept a “renegotiation of the nuclear deal.”

Escalating tensions

Washington also accuses Iran of escalating tensions through provocative acts such as seizing cargo ships in the Persian Gulf (a vital route for oil supplies), backing Iranian proxies who have repeatedly launched rockets at the U.S. embassy in Iraq, and imprisoning Iranian-Americans on false spying charges.

Blinken said the U.S. was a “long ways” from meeting Biden’s aspiration to rejoin the deal.

“Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts, and it would take some time, should it make a decision to do so, for it to come back into compliance, and for us then to assess whether it was meeting its obligations. So, we’re not there yet, to say the least,” Blinken told reporters at a press briefing.

Iran counters that Washington, not Tehran, is behind escalating tensions. It points to the Pentagon’s killing of Iran’s top commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad in January last year, and the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, its top nuclear scientist, outside Tehran in November. Iran’s government accuses Israel, with U.S. support, of being behind Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

Iran also insists, despite skepticism from the international community, that it is not interested in developing a nuclear weapon and that its nuclear activities are intended for civilian purposes only.

Nassar Hadian, a professor of international relations at the University of Tehran who has close links with officials in Iran’s foreign ministry, predicted that both the U.S. and Iran would ultimately return to the nuclear deal as it existed under the Obama administration.

“Washington may not be happy about it, but it knows it’s the only game in town,” he said.

Source » usatoday

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