Iran’s Khamenei: US must lift sanctions before we return to nuclear deal

Supreme leader claims Tehran abided by its commitments while US, France, Germany and the United Kingdom reneged

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with army's air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021 (Official Website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with army's air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021 (Official Website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday that the United States must lift all sanctions before Tehran reverses any nuclear production steps.

The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after pulling the US out of the international accord aimed at curtailing Tehran’s nuclear program.

“The side with the right to set conditions to JCPOA is Iran since it abided by all its commitments, not US or 3 European countries who breached theirs,” Khamenei wrote on Twitter, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“If they want Iran to return, US must lift all sanctions. We’ll verify and if it’s done properly, we’ll return to our commitments,” Khamenei wrote.

Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, Iran, Dec. 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The top diplomats of Britain, France, Germany and the United States held talks on Friday for the first time in almost three years that included discussions on Iran.

Khamenei’s statement came a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told an Iranian newspaper that recent parliament legislation forces the government to toughen its stance on the US if sanctions are not eased in two weeks, the Reuters news agency reported.

In December, the Iranian parliament, led by hardliners, passed legislation that set a two-month deadline for the easing of sanctions.

Also 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.

An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector disconnects the connections between the twin cascades for 20% uranium production at Natanz nuclear power plant south of Tehran on January, 20, 2014 (Photo credit: Kazem Ghane/IRNA/AFP)

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.

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 month by Zarif.

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.

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