Iranian foreign minister: ‘Ready to discuss’ how Biden can rejoin nuclear deal

Zarif says Tehran willing to return to agreement if US lifts sanctions, and ‘negotiations are possible’ without preconditions

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference with Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in Caracas, Venezuela, November 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference with Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in Caracas, Venezuela, November 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that Tehran was willing to return to the 2015 nuclear deal if US President-elect Joe Biden lifts sanctions on Iran after entering the White House.

Biden pledged to return to the accord during his presidential campaign if Iran also adheres to its commitments again. Tehran began breaching the terms of the deal after President Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018 and began sanctioning Iran.

“We are ready to discuss how the United States can reenter the accord,” Zarif told Iranian media, according to a translation by the Reuters news agency.

“If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord… and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5+1,” Zarif said, referring to the six world powers that signed onto the deal.

“The situation will improve in the next few months. Biden can lift all sanctions with three executive orders,” Zarif said. It wasn’t clear which executive orders he was referring to.

“This can be done automatically, and with no need to set conditions. The United States carries out its duties… and we will carry out our commitments under the nuclear deal,” he said.

Biden was vice president when former US president Barack Obama signed the deal with Iran. The pact was stridently denounced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who argued that it did not put in place sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from seeking nuclear weapons capabilities.

Iranian protesters burn Israeli and US flags on June 8, 2018. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Since Trump pulled out of the accord and began imposing crushing economic sanctions on Tehran — a move that was cheered by Netanyahu and other Israeli officials — the Islamic Republic has retaliated by producing more and more highly enriched fissile material in violation of the agreement, getting closer and closer to a bomb, while still leaving room for a return to negotiations.

This nuclear brinksmanship has continued over the past two years, fueled in part by the Iranian regime choosing to wait for the results of the 2020 presidential election, in order to determine how best to bargain with the United States.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning a bevy of wide-ranging sanctions on Iran to make it more difficult for the incoming administration to reenter the deal.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called on Biden last week to “compensate for past mistakes” and return to the deal, opposed to Zarif, who did not call for restitution.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said Monday it would be a “mistake” for the incoming US administration to reenter the deal.

Dermer highlighted the Abraham Accords Israel signed with the UAE and Bahrain against the backdrop of their common opposition to Iranian conduct in the region and appeared to suggest that building a more united front against Tehran would be more beneficial than trying to negotiate with the Islamic Republic.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, speaks at an event in Detroit, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya/File)

He maintained that both Israel and Arab states opposed the 2015 multilateral agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and that their views should have been taken into consideration by the Obama administration at the time.

The remarks appeared to mark the first time an Israeli official publicly spoke out against Biden’s plans to reenter the nuclear accord since he defeated incumbent Trump earlier this month.

In March 2015, Netanyahu warned in a blistering address to the joint houses of Congress that the nuclear deal then taking shape between Iran and Western powers “paves the path for Iran” to a nuclear arsenal, rather than blocking it, and urged American leaders to walk away from what he called “a very bad deal.”

The speech publicly underlined the profound differences between Netanyahu and Obama over how to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, with Netanyahu denouncing the Obama-backed deal when it was finalized later that year as a “historic mistake for the world.”

During the recent presidential campaign, Biden and his aides slammed Trump’s 2018 decision to bolt the agreement, arguing that it allowed Iran to progress toward acquiring a nuclear weapon. They pledged that a Biden administration would work to renegotiate a “longer and stronger” deal.

Last week, former Biden aide Amos Hochstein told Channel 12 that rejoining the Iran nuclear deal was “high on his agenda” and that the US president-elect would move to do so shortly after taking office.

“I believe that in the first months [of Biden’s presidency], we’ll either see him rejoin the deal fully, or what I would call ‘JCPOA-minus,’ meaning lifting sanctions in exchange for suspending some of the Iranian nuclear programs [developed] in the past three years,” Hochstein said.

Hochstein, who served at the State Department and oversaw energy sanctions on Iran during Obama’s tenure, said Biden wants “some changes” to the pact, including its expiration date.

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