Iran disappointed over Biden administration's refusal to lift sanctions

New US secretary of state says Tehran would first need to fully comply with 2015 nuclear deal

Iran has responded with anger and disappointment to the new US secretary of state saying American sanctions against Tehran will not be lifted until it comes back into verifiable “full compliance” with its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal.

Antony Blinken said Iranian compliance would take some time, indicating there is unlikely to be any major movement in negotiations until after the Iranian presidential elections in June.

Blinken made his remarks at a press briefing, prompting some Iranians to claim the Biden administration was using the same failed bargaining tactics as Donald Trump.

Hesameddin Ashena, adviser to the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, told Blinken on Twitter if this kind of approach had been effective, then “Donald Trump would not have left the White House waiting for a phone call from Iran”.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has in a series of interviews and articles over the past fortnight set out a plan whereby Iran would come back into compliance with the deal as soon as the US lifted its panoply of sanctions. He also insisted Iran was not willing to renegotiate the existing deal, or to discuss its missile programme.

Rouhani has highlighted the pain continued US sanctions has caused his country and himself personally. He said: “I testify to God that in these three years, there has not been a night that I can go to bed with peace of mind. During these three years, I felt responsible for the period of the imposed war and I felt that we were in the imposed war. People persevered, endured and suffered a lot.”

Iran has moved away from the nuclear deal commitments, including by breaching agreed uranium enrichment limits and threatening from February to minimise the access UN inspectors have to its nuclear sites.

The Iranian parliament speaker, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, went to the Fordow nuclear site near Qom on Thursday to be briefed on uranium enrichment stockpiles and preparations for changes to the nuclear inspection regime. On the sidelines of the visit, Iranian officials said they intended to install more IR2m gas centrifuges in the next three months. They said Iran had 17kg of stockpiles of 20% enriched uranium, well above the limits set out in the agreement.

Blinken has assembled a team with experience of negotiating with Iran, and it may be he is setting out a maximalist bargaining position before the start of any talks. He also has to ensure he takes a sceptical Congress with him.

He said: “President Biden has been very clear in saying that if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the United States would do the same thing and then we would use that as a platform to build, with our allies and partners, what we called a longer and stronger agreement and to deal with a number of other issues that are deeply problematic in the relationship with Iran.

“But we are a long ways from that point. Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts. And it would take some time, should it make the decision to do so, for it to come back into compliance in time for us then to assess whether it was meeting its obligations. So we’re not – we’re not there yet, to say the least.”

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, has set out a plan whereby Iran would come back into compliance with the deal as soon as the US lifts sanctions. Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Blinken made the comments on the same day as speaking with his foreign minister counterparts in Germany, France and the UK to gauge their thinking. EU diplomats have also just returned from a visit to the Gulf states to discuss how to handle Iran.

Blinken also said the US was suspending arms sales deals to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The US stance had been prefigured in briefings by French officials earlier in the week, prompting Zarif to tweet on Tuesday: “Why on earth should Iran – a country that stood firm & defeated 4 years of a brutal US economic terrorism imposed in violation of JCPOA & UNSC Resolution – show goodwill gesture first? It was the US that broke the deal – for no reason. It must remedy its wrong; then Iran will respond.”

Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, writing in the New York Times, said: “Iran, for its part, has declared on numerous occasions that it is ready to return to the obligations initially agreed under the nuclear deal and expeditiously reverse the measures we have taken since, if all of the sanctions are withdrawn that were imposed and reimposed by the Trump administration after its illegal withdrawal from the accord.”

Israeli military officials have broken protocol before Israel’s elections to warn against a US return to the nuclear deal.

One issue for any negotiations is the precise US sanctions that Iran wants lifted, since some predate the signing of the nuclear deal in 2015.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Iran says it will comply with nuclear deal if Biden lifts all sanctions
Foreign minister calls on US to ‘show its good faith’ but appears to rule out renegotiating deal

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

03, Dec, 2020 @3:40 PM

Article image
Biden will not lift sanctions to get Iran back to negotiating table
President has said he will seek to revive the nuclear deal, but insists that Iran must first reverse its nuclear steps

Guardian staff and agencies

07, Feb, 2021 @5:03 PM

Article image
Donald Trump tells Iran ‘call me’ over lifting sanctions
President suggests US could help revive Iran’s economy in return for no-nuclear weapons pledge

Julian Borger in Washington and Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

09, May, 2019 @7:27 PM

Article image
African leaders gather in US as Joe Biden aims to reboot rocky relations
President and Antony Blinken woo nations at summit in Washington in hope they will align with west rather than Russia or China

Jason Burke Africa correspondent

13, Dec, 2022 @6:19 PM

Article image
Joe Biden defends human rights record ahead of Saudi visit
President says he will not avoid rights issues but skirts commitment to discuss Khashoggi murder

Bethan McKernan in Jerusalem

14, Jul, 2022 @5:43 PM

Article image
US would only quit Iran nuclear deal if Tehran were to renege, Biden pledges
President makes commitment alongside Germany, France and UK not to repeat Donald Trump’s walkout on agreement

Patrick Wintour in Rome

31, Oct, 2021 @11:41 PM

Article image
US and Iran aim for final round of talks on reviving nuclear deal
Progress suggests agreement may be possible before Iranian presidential election in June

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

19, May, 2021 @5:23 PM

Article image
Iran says it will not attend talks with US over nuclear deal
New impasse as Tehran accuses Washington of not doing enough to lift sanctions against it

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

28, Feb, 2021 @7:31 PM

Article image
Who are Joe Biden's top cabinet picks?
Profiles of the people expected to take key posts in the Biden administration

Martin Belam

25, Nov, 2020 @12:41 PM

Article image
Antony Blinken: Biden's secretary of state nominee is sharp break with Trump era
A born internationalist, Blinken will seek to soothe the frayed nerves of western allies

Julian Borger in Washington

23, Nov, 2020 @8:37 AM