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Khamenei says US must move first on nuclear deal

By Golnar Motevalli
Bloomberg News/TNS
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leading the main weekly Muslim Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran on Jan. 17, 2020.

Iran’s Supreme Leader said the U.S. must effectively remove all sanctions on his country’s economy before the Islamic Republic will agree to scale back its atomic work and help revive the beleaguered multinational nuclear deal.

In comments reported on state TV news and published on Twitter using the hashtag “the final word,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that if “all sanctions are removed in practice, not just in words or on paper,” then Iran will return to full compliance to the 2015 nuclear accord - once it’s verified for itself that the penalties have “properly” gone.

The side with the right to set conditions to #JCPOA is Iran since it abided by all its commitments, not US or 3 European countries who breached theirs.

“This is the Islamic Republic’s definite policy,” Khamenei said. “All of the country’s officials have consensus over it and we will not depart from this policy.”

President Joe Biden’s administration is weighing an easing Iran’s economic pain without lifting Trump-era sanctions - something that is likely to face fierce political pushback in Washington. Iran has threatened to end its voluntary compliance with intrusive international nuclear inspections if sanctions aren’t lifted within the next three weeks.

People familiar with Biden’s thinking on Iran policy said he may sign an executive order reversing Trump’s 2018 decision to quit the multinational accord, Bloomberg reported on Saturday.

‘Failed Policies’

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif challenged Biden in a CNN interview to “break with failed policies of President Trump” and return the U.S. to the deal.

“It is for the United States to return to the deal, to implement its obligations,” Zarif said on “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Sunday. “It’s a decision that President Biden and his advisers need to take.”

He demanded that the U.S., if it rejoined the pact, give guarantees that it wouldn’t leave a second time, and rejected the suggestion that talks could be reopened.

“The entire nuclear deal is non-negotiable, because it was fully negotiated,” Zarif said.

Read more: Biden Weighs Easing Iran’s Pain Without Lifting Key Sanctions

Securing approval for an International Monetary Fund loan application and providing coronavirus relief are likely to be much more easily achieved than addressing layers of sanctions and terrorism designations imposed under Donald Trump.

The U.S. has insisted that Iran should first return to full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear deal is known.

Iran restarted production of the more highly enriched uranium on Jan. 4 as it pushes back against sweeping U.S. economic penalties. The decision alarmed European signatories to the 2015 deal, which curbed Tehran’s enrichment activities in return for sanctions relief.

Biden told CBS in an interview aired Sunday that he won’t lift sanctions until Iran stops enriching uranium, though a complete enrichment ban isn’t part of the nuclear deal. Biden has previously called on Iran to reduce its enrichment activity to within the accord’s limits.

Khamenei’s comments on Sunday are the strongest signal yet that Iran will not accept anything other than the U.S. first committing to a full reversal of Trump-era policies before changing course on its nuclear activity.

The U.S. and European countries have no right to impose conditions on Iran because they hadn’t complied with any of their obligations under the 2015 accord, Khamenei said, according to state TV.