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Iran’s Khamenei insists on US sanctions relief before return to nuclear deal

Setting up showdown with Biden administration, supreme leader says Islamic Republic will only go back to honoring JCPOA commitments after embargo lifted ‘in practice’

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with the family of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in early 2020, and top military leaders, in Tehran, Iran, December 16, 2020. (Official website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with the family of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in early 2020, and top military leaders, in Tehran, Iran, December 16, 2020. (Official website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday reiterated the Islamic Republic’s “definite policy” that Washington must lift all sanctions before Tehran returns to its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal.

“The country’s policy regarding interaction with JCPOA parties and the JCPOA itself has been clear,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech, referring to the accord by its official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

It “entails that the Americans must lift the sanctions, all the sanctions, and then we will verify and if they are truly lifted, then we will return to our JCPOA commitments,” he said.

Khamenei stressed that lifting sanctions “on paper is not acceptable” and had to be implemented “in practice.”

The deal was meant to provide Iran with international sanctions relief in exchange for limitations on its controversial nuclear program. But it has been on life support ever since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.

Joe Biden, who defeated Trump at the ballot box in November, has signaled his readiness to revive the accord, but his administration insists Iran must first return to its nuclear commitments, most of which Tehran has suspended in response to US sanctions.

Tehran, in turn, has insisted Washington make the first move by scrapping the sanctions.

“If they accept and implement the policy we have announced then everything will be fixed. And if they don’t, things will continue as they are now, and it is not an issue,” Khamenei said.

He also repeated Tehran’s stance that “maximum pressure has failed” and warned if the Biden administration “wants to continue maximum pressure, they will fail as well.”

Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have already begun voicing opposition to the Biden administration’s desire to rejoin the deal, putting Jerusalem and Washington at odds on the issue. Some leading Israeli officials in recent months have warned of military action to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Nonetheless, Israeli and US officials agreed to set up a joint team for sharing intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program during recent strategic talks, according to a report last week.

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