US President-elect Joe Biden said that the US would rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran if Tehran went back to strict compliance with the agreement, and promised to take steps to curb the influence of the Islamic Republic’s regional proxies.
Biden told The New York Times in an interview published overnight Tuesday that “there’s a lot of talk about precision missiles and all range of other things that are destabilizing the region,” but “the best way to achieve getting some stability in the region” is to address those issues within the nuclear program.
“In consultation with our allies and partners, we’re going to engage in negotiations and follow-on agreements to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program,” he said, noting that the US always has the option to return to sanctions if necessary.
He raised concerns that if Iran were to get a nuclear bomb, it would increase pressure on Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and other nations in the region to acquire such weapons.
“And the last goddamn thing we need in that part of the world is a buildup of nuclear capability,” Biden said.
“It’s going to be hard, but yeah,” Biden told the Times when specifically asked about an essay he wrote that was published in September.
Biden wrote in the article for CNN prior to the election that “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.”
According to the Times report, Biden and his team are working on the premise that if the deal is restored on both sides there will need to be new negotiations on the length of time for restrictions on the production of the fissile material necessary for producing a bomb, originally set at 15 years under the 2015 the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
The US imposed crippling sanctions on Iran after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018. In response, Iran began publicly exceeding limits set by the agreement while saying it would quickly return to compliance if the United States did the same.
Additionally, Biden said, steps would need to be taken to address Tehran’s terror activities through regional proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The report said that the future Biden administration would want the talks with Tehran to include not only the original parties to the deal — Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union — but also key regional players Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The comments came as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday rejected a bill approved by parliament that would have suspended UN inspections and boosted uranium enrichment, saying it was “harmful” to diplomatic efforts aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal and easing US sanctions.
The tug-of-war over the bill, which gained momentum after the killing of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist last month, allegedly by Israel, reflects the rivalry between Rouhani and hardline lawmakers who dominate parliament and favor a more confrontational approach to the West.
The bill would have suspended UN inspections and required the government to resume enriching uranium to 20 percent if European nations failed to provide relief from crippling US sanctions on the country’s oil and banking sectors. That level falls short of the threshold needed for nuclear weapons but is higher than that required for civilian purposes.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Rouhani said his administration “does not agree with that and considers it harmful for the trend of diplomatic activities.” He implied the lawmakers were positioning themselves ahead of Iran’s elections planned for June.
He added that “today, we are more powerful in the nuclear field than at any other time.”
The bill is expected to have little if any impact, as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policies, including those related to the nuclear program. Rather, it appeared to be a show of defiance after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a key figure in Iran’s nuclear program, was killed in an attack Iranian officials have blamed on Israel.
Some analysts have argued the killing was aimed at making it more difficult for Biden to reenter the nuclear deal with Iran.
Fakhrizadeh headed a program that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the “structured program” ended in 2003, while Israel says Iran is still aiming to develop nuclear weapons, pointing to its work on ballistic missiles and other technologies.
Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, though a trove of Iranian documents stolen from Tehran by the Mossad, which were revealed by Netanyahu in 2018, showed plans by Iran to attach a nuclear warhead to a ballistic missile.
Iran has suffered several devastating attacks this year, including the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in January, and a mysterious explosion and fire in the summer that crippled an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which is widely believed to have been an act of sabotage.