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US can’t return to nuclear deal just by signing up for it, warns Iran

Spokesman says Tehran will insist Washington lift sanctions before rejoining 2015 pact

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran warned on Monday that the US can’t return to the 2015 nuclear deal just by again signing the agreement, but rather must first remove all of the sanctions it put on the country after it withdrew from the treaty.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at a press conference in Tehran that Iran won’t reverse any of the steps it has taken away from the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action until its demands are met, Bloomberg reported

The US “cannot return to the nuclear accord with one signature in the way that they left with one,” Khatibzadeh said, according to the report.

“We’re waiting for US action to effectively undo sanctions, give us access to our own funds, permit easy oil exports and allow the transfer of oil revenue, shipping and insurance,” he specified, referring to some of the key elements targeted by Washington’s measures.

Saeed Khatibzadeh (Screen capture: YouTube)

“As soon as the US starts to take effective measures, Iran will respond proportionately,” Khatibzadeh said.

Iran has recently dug in on its position that US sanctions be lifted before it considers making any conciliatory gestures itself, while upping pressure on Washington by further reducing its own commitments to the deal.

On Sunday, the head of Iran’s influential Republican Guard Corps declared his country was in a position where it could work toward overcoming sanctions without remaining in the nuclear deal, which has steadily unraveled since the Trump administration pulled the US out of it in May 2018.

Khatibzadeh on Saturday rejected suggestions by French President Emmanuel Macron that Tehran renegotiate the deal.

Macron was reported to say any new nuclear negotiations with Tehran would be “very strict,” and that only a very short time remains to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

In response, Khatibzadeh cautioned Macron to “exercise restraint and refrain from hasty and ill-considered positions.”

“If there is a desire to revive and maintain the deal, the solution is simple: The United States will return to the accord and all sanctions will be removed,” Khatibzadeh said at the time.

Last week, Iran’s cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei warned that the US will not have “all the time in the world” to rejoin the nuclear deal.

US President Donald Trump signs a Presidential Memorandum withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, on May 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

He also said that Iran would take a step further away from the nuclear deal by imposing a “restriction” on short-notice inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog in late February. The first step to limit those inspections would be taken from the week of February 19, he said.

Former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal in 2018, saying it was not strict enough and did not address Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional aspirations. Under the 2015 deal, Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Other partners to the agreement have tried to keep it intact.

After the US then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development. Iranian state TV reported Thursday that Iran had exceeded 17 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium within a month, moving its nuclear program closer to weapons-grade enrichment levels.

US President Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the US to the deal. But he has also said Tehran must resume compliance first, a demand reiterated by new Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week.

US President Joe Biden arrives at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland, January 29, 2021, (Alex Brandon/AP)

The Biden administration’s policy on Iran is expected to be a point of contention between the new US administration and Israel. Israeli officials have voiced strong objections to the US rejoining the nuclear deal, and have also issued threats against Iran in recent weeks.

Iran says it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a position repeated last week by its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

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