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Zarif warns ‘window is closing’ for new US approach to Iranian nuclear program

Upping pressure, Iran’s foreign minister says Washington may lose opportunity to turn the page with Tehran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during talks in Moscow, Russia, January 26, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during talks in Moscow, Russia, January 26, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

Seeking to ratchet up pressure on the Biden administration, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned on Wednesday that “the existing window is closing” for the US to adopt a “new approach” toward Iran’s nuclear program.

Speaking on the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution in an English-language video posted to social media, Zarif said he hoped the new US president would break from his predecessor’s attempts to pressure Iran.

“Donald Trump betted on the myth that Iran is a nation that can be forced to choose between collapse and submission,” Zarif said, urging the immediate end to US sanctions on the Islamic State.

“We have all seen the outcome of that bet. But Trump was not the first nor the second, but in fact the seventh consecutive US president who has made and lost the exact same wager,” he said.

US President Donald Trump, accompanied by (From left), US special envoy for Iran Brian Hook, Avraham Berkowitz, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Trump’s White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in the Oval Office at the White House, August 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Zarif said there was an opportunity for Washington “to try a new approach, but the existing window is closing,” with the Iranian parliament having passed legislation forcing the government to toughen its stance on the US if sanctions are not eased by February 21.

On Tuesday, Iran’s intelligence minister warned Tehran could push for nuclear weapons if international sanctions on Tehran remain in place. The remarks by Mahmoud Alavi marked a rare occasion that a government official said Iran could move toward nuclear weapons.

Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

“Our nuclear program is peaceful and the fatwa by the supreme leader has forbidden nuclear weapons, but if they push Iran in that direction, then it wouldn’t be Iran’s fault but those who pushed it,” Alavi said. “If a cat is cornered, it may show a kind of behavior that a free cat would not,” Alavi said.

According to Zarif on Wednesday, Iran will “take further remedial action” on “enhancement” of the country’s nuclear program if sanctions are not lifted by the deadline.

“It can be averted only if the United States decides to learn from Trump’s maximum failure, rather than lean on it,” he added.

US President Joe Biden, however, said last week that his administration would not agree to lift sanctions on Iran before it halts its increased uranium enrichment, saying that the Islamic Republic will have to first resume compliance with the nuclear deal.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) listens as US President Joe Biden delivers remarks to State Department staff, February 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The landmark 2015 deal has been hanging by a thread since the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

A year later Iran suspended its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in the deal.

Last week, a day before Biden’s comments, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the US must “completely lift” sanctions first, followed by verification by Tehran, before the Islamic republic returns to its commitments.

This was Iran’s “definite policy” and Tehran “will not turn back from it,” he said.

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