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Iran’s Raisi: Lifting US sanctions the priority in nuclear talks

In phone call with France’s Macron, Iranian president says Washington ‘must gain the confidence’ of Tehran in order for the latest negotiations to be productive

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses a session of parliament, in Tehran, Iran, August 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses a session of parliament, in Tehran, Iran, August 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president has assured his French counterpart that his government is serious about resumed talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal but stressed that lifting US sanctions is the absolute priority.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s comments in a phone call with Emmanuel Macron on Monday evening were his first after the reopening of the talks in Vienna earlier in the day.

Raisi said that Washington has a special responsibility to rebuild confidence in the agreement as it was then-US president Donald Trump who had brought it to its knees in 2018 by pulling out and reimposing sweeping sanctions.

“Those who have started to violate the nuclear deal must gain the confidence of the other party for the negotiations to proceed in a real and fruitful manner,” he said.

Raisi said Iran was serious about the talks on reviving the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and expected its negotiating partners to be so too.

“Sending a full team to the talks shows Iran’s serious will in these talks,” he said. “If the Americans lift the sanctions and the Europeans honor their commitments… Iran will meet its obligations too.”

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, arrives at the Coburg Palais in Vienna for nuclear talks, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)

Raisi said Iran stood ready to resume “full cooperation” with the UN nuclear watchdog, which was tasked with monitoring Iran’s implementation of the strict limits on its nuclear activities it agreed to in 2015 in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Resume obligations

A statement issued by the French presidency after the phone call said that France’s goal in the talks was to “see Iran return to full respect for all of its commitments under the JCPOA and that the United States return to the agreement.”

Macron “underscored the need for Iran to engage constructively in this direction so that the exchanges allow a swift return to the agreement,” it said.

“Iran must return without delay to compliance with all its commitments and obligations… and quickly resume cooperation that allows the (UN atomic) agency to fully carry out its mission.”

In a separate phone call with UN chief Antonio Guterres on Monday evening, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian promised that Iran would resume its obligations under the nuclear deal as soon as the other parties did so too.

“The other parties must resume their obligations in full,” he said. “When that happens, Iran will halt its compensatory measures.”

He was referring to Iran’s tit-for-tat suspension of key undertakings in the 2015 deal that has seen it enrich uranium in larger quantities and to higher levels of purity than it had originally promised.

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting – IRIB, via AP)

The talks in Vienna are the first since Iran paused them after Raisi’s election in June and then ignored Western appeals to restart them for several months.

The remaining parties to the 2015 agreement Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are participating directly. At Iran’s insistence, the United States is doing so only indirectly.

The EU chair of the talks, Enrique Mora, said after the first session on Monday that he felt “extremely positive,” although he acknowledged that “difficult issues” had yet to be tackled.

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