TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader cautioned Tuesday against hopes of a diplomatic “opening” with the West, after President Hassan Rouhani’s government signaled a willingness to engage with US President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden, who defeated Donald Trump at the ballot box on November 3, has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under the departing US president.
At a meeting with Rouhani, parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and judicial chief Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “we can’t trust foreigners and hope for an opening on their part.”
“We tried to lift sanctions once and negotiated for several years, but to no avail,” his office quoted him as saying, in reference to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The agreement that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program has been hanging by a thread since 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew and reimposed punitive measures.
In response, the Islamic Republic has gradually reduced its commitments to the deal.
Since Biden’s election victory, the Rouhani government has sent out signals on multiple occasions indicating it is ready to open up with the incoming US administration.
But Khamenei warned that “the situation in the United States is not clear and the Europeans are constantly taking a stand against Iran,” according to the statement from his office.
Biden, who was vice president to Barack Obama when the 2015 accord was signed, has said that he plans to return to the agreement as a basis for further negotiations with Iran.
He has argued that Trump’s withdrawal from the deal signaled to American allies that it could not be trusted to hold agreements and that while the accord may not have been perfect, it had been effective in blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.
Since Trump pulled out of the accord and began imposing crushing economic sanctions on Tehran, the Islamic Republic has retaliated by producing more and more highly enriched fissile material in violation of the agreement, getting closer and closer to a bomb, while still leaving room for a return to negotiations.
The UN’s atomic watchdog agency said earlier this month that Iran continues to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium far beyond the limits set in the accord and to enrich it to a greater purity than permitted.
Earlier this week, Iran’s foreign minister said that Tehran was willing to return to the deal if Biden lifts sanctions on Iran after entering the White House.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on against reengaging with Iran on the nuclear deal, saying, “There can be no going back to the previous nuclear agreement. We must stick to an uncompromising policy of ensuring that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.”
His comments echoed his bitter opposition to the 2015 deal when it was being negotiated by the Obama administration, and contrast starkly with Biden’s pledge to “rejoin” the accord.