TEHRAN — Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday welcomed US sanctions relief intended to entice Tehran back to the 2015 nuclear deal, but said the move was “insufficient.”
On Friday, the Biden administration restored some sanctions relief to Iran’s civilian atomic program as world powers and the Islamic Republic continue talks aimed at salvaging the languishing agreement.
“Lifting some sanctions in a real and objective manner could be interpreted as the good will that Americans talk about,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told reporters on Saturday.
However, he said the move “is not enough.”
“Good will, in our viewpoint, means that something tangible happens on the ground,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
Amir-Abdollahian reiterated that one of the “main issues” in the talks is obtaining guarantees that the US will not withdraw from the 2015 deal again.
“We seek and demand guarantees in the political, legal and economic sectors,” he said, adding that “agreements have been reached in some areas.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh also called the US sanctions relief insufficient, saying Tehran expects the lifting of sanctions outlined under the nuclear deal.
“Everyone knows that is not sufficient,” Khatibzadeh was quoted as saying by the Iranian Jamaran news website.
“Indeed, the Islamic Republic of Iran is waiting for the US to implement its duties and commitments according to the nuclear deal dimensions,” he said.
The Biden administration on Friday restored some sanctions relief to Iran’s atomic program as talks aimed at salvaging the languishing 2015 nuclear deal enter a critical phase.
As US negotiators head back to Vienna for what could be a make-or-break session, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed several sanctions waivers related to Iran’s civilian nuclear activities. The move reverses the Trump administration’s decision to rescind them.
The waivers are intended to entice Iran to return to compliance with the 2015 deal that it has been publicly violating since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions. Iran says it is not respecting the terms of the deal because the US pulled out of it first. Iran has demanded the restoration of all sanctions relief it was promised under the deal to return to compliance.
Friday’s move lifts the sanctions threat against foreign countries and companies from Russia, China and Europe that had been cooperating with non-military parts of Iran’s nuclear program under the terms of the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
The Trump administration had ended the so-called “civ-nuke” waivers in May 2020 as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran that began when Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018, complaining that it was the worst diplomatic agreement ever negotiated and gave Iran a pathway to developing the bomb.
As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden made a US return to the nuclear deal a priority, and his administration has pursued that goal but there has been little progress toward that end since he took office a year ago. Administration officials said the waivers were being restored to help push the Vienna negotiations forward.
“The waiver with respect to these activities is designed to facilitate discussions that would help to close a deal on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and lay the groundwork for Iran’s return to performance of its JCPOA commitments,” the State Department said in a notice to Congress that announced the move.
“It is also designed to serve US nonproliferation and nuclear safety interests and constrain Iran’s nuclear activities,” the department said. “It is being issued as a matter of policy discretion with these objectives in mind, and not pursuant to a commitment or as part of a quid pro quo. We are focused on working with partners and allies to counter the full range of threats that Iran poses.”
A copy of the State Department notice and the actual waivers signed by Blinken were obtained by The Associated Press.
The waivers permit foreign countries and companies to work on civilian projects at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station, its Arak heavy water plant and the Tehran Research Reactor. Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo had revoked the waivers in May, 2020, accusing Iran of “nuclear extortion” for continuing and expanding work at the sites.
Critics of the nuclear deal who lobbied Trump to withdraw from it protested, arguing that even if the Biden administration wants to return to the 2015 deal it should at least demand some concessions from Iran before up front granting it sanctions relief.
“From a negotiating perspective, they look desperate: we’ll waive sanctions before we even have a deal, just say yes to anything!” said Rich Goldberg, a vocal deal opponent who is a senior adviser to the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
One senior State Department official familiar with the waivers maintained that the move is not a “concession” to Iran and was being taken “in our vital national interest as well as the interest of the region and the world.” The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.