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Iran says it will comply with nuclear deal if Biden lifts all sanctions

Iran will come back into full compliance with its nuclear deal immediately after an incoming Joe Biden administration proves its bona fides by lifting all sanctions, the country’s foreign minister has said.

Setting out the parameters for a new relationship with the US, Javad Zarif also said Iran would not require the US to rejoin the deal, known as the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPoA), before lifting its sanctions, but would need some kind of assurance that once it has rejoined a Biden administration would not simply leave the deal again in the same way Donald Trump did.

He also appeared to rule out renegotiating the existing deal even though the US believes that with many of its key clauses due to expire in 2025, new sunset clauses are required.

Zarif was speaking at the Roma Med 2020 conference by video link as the Biden team works on how to approach the Middle East.

Zarif said: “The US must implement without preconditions its obligations under the JCPoA. It has to show its good faith, it has to establish its bona fides, then Iran will go back in full compliance with JCPoA”.

He told the audience Iran’s government did not like the Iranian parliament resolution passed on Tuesday requiring the country to step up its uranium enrichment activities and potentially end the UN inspection programme by February if US sanctions are not lifted.

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What is the Iran nuclear deal?

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In July 2015, Iran and a six-nation negotiating group reached a landmark agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that ended a 12-year deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear programme. The deal, struck in Vienna after nearly two years of intensive talks, limited the Iranian programme, to reassure the rest of the world that it cannot develop nuclear weapons, in return for sanctions relief.

At its core, the JCPOA is a straightforward bargain: Iran’s acceptance of strict limits on its nuclear programme in return for an escape from the sanctions that grew up around its economy over a decade prior to the accord. Under the deal, Iran unplugged two-thirds of its centrifuges, shipped out 98% of its enriched uranium and filled its plutonium production reactor with concrete. Tehran also accepted extensive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has verified 10 times since the agreement, and as recently as February, that Tehran has complied with its terms. In return, all nuclear-related sanctions were lifted in January 2016, reconnecting Iran to global markets.

The six major powers involved in the nuclear talks with Iran were in a group known as the P5+1: the UN security council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – and Germany. The nuclear deal is also enshrined in a UN security council resolution that incorporated it into international law. The 15 members of the council at the time unanimously endorsed the agreement.

On 8 May 2018, US president Donald Trump pulled his country out of the deal. Iran announced its partial withdrawal from the nuclear deal a year later.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Iran correspondent

But he said “like any democracy when the legislation goes through all its legal procedures, and it has almost completed those procedures, it becomes law and an obligation on the government”.

But he added the resolution was “not irreversible” and would fall away if the US lifted sanctions, allowing Iran to go back to full compliance with the deal.

In what could prove to be a major stumbling block in a Biden-Iran rapprochement, he appeared to rule out a renegotiation of the existing JCPoA, saying its duration and clauses had been negotiated. “We will not renegotiate a deal which we negotiated.” He said the US had started the talks on the 2015 deal wanting 20 plus 10 years of restrictions, and Iran wanting none. “We agreed on somewhere in the middle, 10 plus a few more. This was the subject of two years of negotiations. It will never be renegotiated. Period.”

He said regarding missiles and regional dialogue, two topics on which the US wanted to engage, Iran was willing to hold talks with its neighbours but it might require the US to withdraw its current blank cheque to Saudi Arabia.

Many critics of the deal say some of its key enrichment restrictions expire as early as 2025, and new limits are needed. There is also concern that if Iran demands the US can only come back into the JCPoA on terms that prevent it from again unilaterally leaving, the US might feel it has lost negotiating leverage over Iran to update the deal.

However, Zarif said: “The JCPoA and any international agreement is not a revolving door. It’s not that you can come in, impose restrictions on others, benefit from the privileges of membership and suddenly decide to leave and inflict $150bn [£110bn] of damage on the Iranian people.”

He added: “We will have to be satisfied that this is not repeated.”

It is not clear how the US could credibly commit to never leaving the deal. Biden said this week that if the US did return to the JCPoA, Iran knew the US could “snapback” UN sanctions if the US felt Iran was non-compliant.

Zarif said Iran was willing to engage in a dialogue with regional partners including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He called on Saudi Arabia to limit its $67bn annual defence spending to Iran’s $10bn, and challenged Saudi Arabia to stop the spread of weapons across the region. He questioned whether the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia really wanted to fight Israel’s battle against Iran.

Once these countries no longer believe they have a US blank cheque, they will start engaging with Iran, he said.

He also claimed he backed further prisoner swaps such as the recent exchange involving the jailed British-Australian academic Kylie Moore Gilbert with three Iranians in Thailand.

“We can always engage in that, it is in the interests of everybody,” Zarif said. “Iran is ready to reciprocate. We can do it tomorrow. We can also do it today.”

In an indirect reference to the UK, he said one JCPoA member “has a court order to pay Iran several hundred million pounds but they are refusing to do that because they say they cannot do that because they cannot transfer the money due to US sanctions”.

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