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Iran’s Zarif says nuclear deal ‘will never be renegotiated,’ rules out new talks

Tehran’s top diplomat says if US wants to reenter the 2015 accord, it must do so without any preconditions; Netanyahu warns US return to JCPOA would be ‘a mistake’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks on the second day of the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks on the second day of the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Thursday his country won’t agree to renegotiate elements of the international accord limiting its nuclear program, as US President-elect Joe Biden says he’ll reenter the deal if Tehran returns to full compliance.

“It will never be renegotiated. Period,” Zarif told a conference in Italy, speaking remotely.

He said Iran won’t agree to any curbs on its missile program or backing of regional proxies unless Western countries stop their “malign behavior” in the Middle East.

“As long as they’re not able to put up, they have to shut up,” Zarif said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down on his stance that Biden’s plan to re-enter the nuclear deal would be misguided.

“It’s a mistake to go back to the JCPOA. You shouldn’t go back to that flawed agreement,” he said in a televised interview with the DC-based Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a news conference in Jerusalem, November 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)

Netanyahu said the deal is what gave Iran the funds to establish itself in Syria and Iraq as well as fund proxies around the region.

Asked by Doran whether he was worried of the US pulling out of the Middle East with recently announced troop withdrawals, the premier responded: “Yes of course. I think it would be a great misfortune for us but also for the United States. For us and our newfound Arab allies. We have peace breaking out now and I think the United States has a vested interest to expand that peace.”

Zarif urged Biden to abandon Washington’s “rogue” behavior and lift crippling sanctions on his country, rejecting talk of renegotiating the 2015 nuclear deal.

He said that when President Donald Trump left the landmark agreement, the United States had breached a UN Security Council resolution endorsing it.

“The US has been in grave breach of that resolution because the Trump administration has been a rogue regime,” Zarif said in an online interview held as part of the Mediterranean Dialogues event.

“Now if President-elect Biden wants to continue to be a rogue regime, then he can continue to be asking for negotiations to implement its commitments,” he added. “The United States must stop, the United States must cease its violations of international law. It doesn’t require any negotiations.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and US Vice-President Joe Biden speak prior to a meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Decades-old US-Iranian tensions escalated after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed, then toughened, sanctions that have hammered Iran’s economy.

Biden has signaled he will return the US to the deal, which offered Tehran relief from international sanctions in exchange for guarantees, verified by the United Nations, that its nuclear program has no military aims.

Outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued veiled criticism of Biden as he marked the 84th birthday of Iranian-American Mohammad Bagher Namazi, who along with his businessman son and at least one other US citizen remains in prison on vague security charges.

“There should be no deals with Iran until these men are released,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

Biden told The New York Times this week that if Iran returned to compliance, the US would rejoin, after which he would seek to tighten Iran’s nuclear constraints and address concerns about both its missile program and Iran’s support for militants in the region.

But Zarif said: “We will not renegotiate a deal which we negotiated.”

And he added that Western powers should look to their own behavior before criticizing Iran.

“Last year the West sold to the Persian Gulf more weapons than it sold to any other part of the world. Over $100 billion worth of weapons were sold to this region. Is the West ready to stop this malign behavior?” Zarif said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses a gathering at the All India Association of Industries (AIAI) in Mumbai on January 17, 2020. (Punit PARANJPE / AFP)

He also complained over what he characterized as a lack of European outrage at the assassination of one of Iran’s leading nuclear scientists, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran last week — an attack that Tehran has blamed on Israel.

“When they (the West) are ready to deal with those problems of their own malign behavior in the region… then they can start talking about other things,” he said.

On Wednesday a key Iranian panel signed off on a bill to suspend UN inspections and boost uranium enrichment, sending it to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who opposes the measure.

Iranian state TV says the constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, approved the bill and formally sent it to Rouhani who now has five working days to officially sign off on a bill to make it executable.

Rouhani expressed his opposition to the bill approved by parliament the previous day, saying it would be “harmful” to diplomatic efforts aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal and easing US sanctions.

Tuesday’s approval by lawmakers appeared to be a show of defiance after Fakhrizadeh, a key figure in Iran’s nuclear program, was killed.

Fakhrizadeh headed a program that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the “structured program” ended in 2003, while Israel says Iran is still aiming to develop nuclear weapons, pointing to its work on ballistic missiles and other technologies.

The US imposed crippling sanctions on Iran after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018. In response, Iran began publicly exceeding enrichment limits set by the agreement while saying it would quickly return to compliance if the United States did the same.

Rouhani, one of the architects of the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, favors a return to the deal and greater diplomatic engagement with the US and other Western nations.

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