Iran’s top diplomat urged US President Joe Biden on Saturday to act swiftly and return Washington to the 2015 nuclear agreement and end sanctions on the country by February 21, after which the Iranian government stance is set to “harden.”
The Trump administration re-imposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after pulling the US out of an international accord aimed at curtailing Tehran’s nuclear program.
In an interview with the Iranian Hamshahri newspaper, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said recent parliament legislation forces the government to toughen its stance on the US if sanctions are not eased in two weeks, Reuters reported Saturday.
In December, the Iranian parliament, led by hardliners, passed legislation that set a two-month deadline for the easing of sanctions.
“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. The Iranian New Year begins March 21.
Zarif also pointed to upcoming presidential elections in Iran coming up in June. If a hardline president is elected it may further jeopardize the deal, he appeared to have suggested in the interview.
“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 cited by Reuters.
“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.
In January, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Biden has been “very clear” that “if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the [deal], the United States would do the same.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last Sunday that Iran was currently months away from being able to produce enough material to build a nuclear weapon. And, he said, that timeframe could be reduced to “a matter of weeks” if Tehran further violates restrictions it agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Last month, Tehran announced it was beginning to enrich uranium up to 20 percent — far beyond the 3.5% permitted under the nuclear deal, and a relatively small technical step away from the 90% needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran also said it was beginning research into uranium metal, a material that technically has civilian uses but is seen as another likely step toward a nuclear bomb.
Iran insists it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a position repeated last week by Zarif.
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that United Nations nuclear inspectors found traces of radioactive material at Iranian nuclear sites that could indicate work on nuclear weapons.
The report cited several unnamed diplomats briefed on the matter, who said the locations in which the material was found contributed to suspicions.
Tehran barred inspectors from accessing those same locations for a number of months last year, it said.
The report did not make clear whether the suspected weapons development was recent or old. The International Atomic Energy Agency and Western intelligence services all believe Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program until 2003, though Tehran denies ever attempting to obtain such weapons.