As US vows to coordinate with Israel, Iran says no changes to nuke deal

FM Zarif says Tehran’s ‘return to the table’ at stake if Washington and its allies demands new terms for lifting sanctions

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a forum titled 'Common Security in the Islamic World' in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, August 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a forum titled 'Common Security in the Islamic World' in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, August 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File)

Ahead of expected efforts to reconstitute Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister has warned that his country would not accept changes to the terms of the 2015 pact.

Writing in Foreign Affairs on Friday, Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran’s “return to the table will be jeopardized if Washington or its EU allies demand new terms for a deal that was already carefully constructed through years of negotiations.”

US President Joe Biden has indicated his desire to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is known, while Israel is pushing for any return to the agreement to include fresh limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror and destabilization around the world.

Despite guarded optimism from both sides, there has been no sign of any movement toward common ground on the JCPOA during Biden’s first week in office.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat, and promised to consult closely on regional security, Walla reported.

“I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy,” promised Biden as a candidate back in September. “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in December that he was “not overjoyed” at Biden’s victory, but he was happy that Donald Trump was leaving office. Rouhani also called Trump a “terrorist.”

Zarif also said Friday that if the US began by “unconditionally removing, with full effect, all sanctions imposed, reimposed, or relabeled since Trump took office,” Iran would reverse the measures it has taken since the American withdrawal from the deal in 2018.

The JCPOA was signed by Iran and six world powers known as the P5+1 in 2015. Then-president Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, opting instead for a “maximum pressure” sanctions effort.

Since 2019, Tehran has suspended its compliance with most of the limits set by the agreement in response to Washington’s abandonment of sanctions relief and the failure of other parties to the deal to make up for it.

Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

Biden’s pick for secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, said at a Senate confirmation hearing that Trump’s policies had made Iran “more dangerous.” Blinken confirmed Biden’s desire for Washington to return to the nuclear agreement, but said that was conditional on Tehran’s return to strict compliance with its commitments.

Zarif’s demands are part of the seven conditions Iran has formulated for returning to talk on the JCPOA, according to a Kuwaiti newspaper.

Officials in the Biden administration have already begun holding quiet talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and have updated Israel on those conversations, Channel 12 reported last week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to dispatch Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to Washington in the coming weeks to lay out Israel’s demands of the Biden administration for any new version of the Iran nuclear deal, Channel 12 reported Saturday night.

The network said Cohen, one of Netanyahu’s most trusted colleagues, is to travel to the US within the next month and will be the first senior Israeli official to meet  Biden. Cohen is also expected to meet with the head of the CIA.

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