Iran reacts coolly to US talk offer, demands lifting of sanctions

Iran will “immediately reverse” actions in its nuclear programme once US sanctions are lifted, its foreign minister said on Friday (19 February), reacting coolly to Washington’s initial offer to revive talks with Tehran aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, writes Parisa Hafezi.

President Joe Biden’s administration said on Thursday (18 February) it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord, which aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons while lifting most international sanctions. Former President Donald Trump left the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Tehran said Washington’s move was not enough to persuade Iran to fully respect the accord.

When sanctions are lifted, “we will then immediately reverse all remedial measures. Simple,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.

Since Trump ditched the deal, Tehran has breached the accord by rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.

Tehran and Washington have been at odds over who should make the first step to revive the accord. Iran says the United States must first lift Trump’s sanctions while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal.

However, a senior Iranian official told Reuters that Tehran was considering Washington’s offer to talk about the revival of the deal.

“But first they should return to the deal. Then within the framework of the 2015 deal, a mechanism to basically synchronise steps can be discussed,” the official said. “We have never sought nuclear weapons and this is not part of our defence doctrine,” the Iranian official said. “Our message is very clear. Lift all the sanctions and give diplomacy a chance.”

The European Union is working on organising an informal meeting with all participants of the Iran deal and the United States, which has already signalled willingness to join any gathering, a senior EU official said on Friday.

Adding to pressure for a resolution to the impasse, a law passed by the hardline parliament obliges Tehran on Feb. 23 to cancel the sweeping access given to UN inspectors under the deal, limiting their visits to declared nuclear sites only.

The United States and the European parties to the accord have urged Iran to refrain from taking the step, which will complicate Biden’s efforts.

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