Iran said on Saturday that the administration of US President Joe Biden should make a “political decision” on whether to stick to his predecessor’s “failed legacy” of sanctions or to move away from that.
“It is a political decision that President Biden should make. Does he actually want to risk the nuclear deal signed by the United States when he was vice president in favor of Trump’s failed legacy and sanctions or he’s actually trying to depart from this failure?” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told CNN, referring to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, between Iran world powers from which former US president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Khatibzadeh said certain people inside the current US administration “are much more committed to Trump’s sanctions” than the deal signed when ex-president Barack Obama was in office.
Biden supports a return to the 2015 agreement trashed by Trump under which Iran scaled back nuclear work in return for promises of sanctions relief.
Iran has demanded that the United States first lift all sanctions, which includes a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it rolls back moves out of nuclear compliance that it had taken in protest.
The remaining parties to the accord – Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – met again on Friday after talks formally began on Tuesday. Talks are set to resume Wednesday with Iran again meeting the other nations in the deal.
Iran refused to meet directly with US negotiator Rob Malley during the talks led by the European Union, whose envoys shuttled between the two sides in different hotels.
Khatibzadeh said Vienna talks were “in the right direction” and that there were “positive moves”.
“Vienna talks showed that progress is possible. The positive momentum which has been created by the 4+1 can be sustained if the United States is ready to fulfil its obligations under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231,” he said, pointing to a 2015 resolution adopted to endorse the JCPOA.
The spokesman repeated Iran’s “crystal clear position” that all sanctions “should be removed verifiably at once” to clear the way for the US to reenter the nuclear deal.
“All sanctions imposed illegally on Iran by the United States meaning that those which have been imposed, reimposed or relabeled by the Trump administration should be removed verifiably at once. This is Iran’s crystal clear position. We think it is not only logical but it is a workable path for the United States to get back to the deal and in full compliance,” he said.
“The United States broke the deal so they have to fix it.”
Khatibzadeh reminded that it was the Trump administration that imposed sanctions on Iran “in the first place”. “So logically… the United States has to show everybody that they actually want in practice not on paper to reverse the course.”
He said that Iran and other JCPOA parties are now working to “identify a full list of sanctions the United States should actually remove”.
Iran, he added, “is ready to stop its remedial measures taken to respond to US sanctions” once all the bans are removed verifiably.
Asked about the possibility of talks between Iran and the US, Khatibzadeh said: “Whether Iran and the United States can again talk depends on whether the United States gets back to the deal and the JCPOA table. Until then, there would be no direct or indirect negotiations between the two sides.”
The spokesman also stressed that Iran’s conventional missile program will not be the subject of any negotiations.
“No country on earth compromises on its national security, and missiles are our defense. So nobody is going to talk about that. If our neighbors are ready to talk about 100 billion of quote unquote beautiful American military equipment poured in our region, if other sides are ready to talk about those issues, it is a matter of time we have to wait and see.”
Possible deadlock in talks
The United States has said it is prepared to lift "sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA". While it has declined to elaborate, that appears to exclude sanctions formally unrelated to nuclear issues covered by the deal.
"If Iran sticks to the position that every sanction that has been imposed since 2017 has to be lifted or there will be no deal, then we are heading towards an impasse," a senior US official told reporters, Reuters reported.
The official added that the US offered "very serious" ideas on reviving the nuclear accord but was waiting for Tehran to “reciprocate”.
"The United States team put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance," he said, according to AFP.
"We saw some signs of it but certainly not enough. There's still question marks about whether Iran has the willingness to... take the pragmatic approach that the United States has taken to come back into compliance with its obligations under the deal," he added.
The head of Iran's delegation to the talks Seyyed Abbas Araqchi stressed the need for "political will and seriousness from other parties".
"Otherwise, there will be no reason to continue negotiations," he said.
The US official indicated that the major stumbling block in the initial talks was not the order of compliance but rather which sanctions were under discussion as Iran is demanding an end to all US restrictions.
Some diplomats hope an agreement can be reached before Iran's June 18 presidential election or else talks risk being pushed back until later in the year.
"Given the technical complexity of the nuclear aspects and legal intricacies of sanctions lifting, it would be very optimistic to think a few weeks," a senior European diplomatic source said.