Nuclear Impasse Continues: Iran Wants ‘Verification’, US Expects ‘Diplomatic Conversation’
Following the lead of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, some hardliners are now insisting that once United States sanctions are removed, Iran would require verification before taking any steps itself. Since President Joe Biden came into office on January 20, Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads over who should take the first step in reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.
Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of Kayhan, an influential daily financed by the leader’s office, on Saturday [February 20] criticized Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for suggesting Iran was ready to reverse all steps taken in its nuclear program beyond limits set by the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“These remarks are in contradiction with the conditions announced by Iran because stopping the reduction of commitments will not be ‘immediate’ unlike what Zarif has written,” Shariatmadari, a long-term opponent of the JCPOA, wrote. “The authenticity of the lifting of the sanctions has to be verified.” Shariatmadari asserted that the US, which left the JCPOA in 2018 and imposed stringent sanctions, would be allowed to again participate in the agreement “if all sanctions are lifted.”
Zarif on Friday had urged the Biden administration to match words with action and unconditionally lift all sanctions “unconditionally and effectively” for Iran to “immediately reverse all remedial measures.” Since 2019, Iran has enriched uranium beyond 3.67%, used more advanced centrifuges, and plans on February 23 – unless sanctions are removed – to reduce access of United Nations nuclear inspectors.
Shariatmadari’s declaration echoes views expressed on Khamenei’s website and social media accounts over the past few days. Khamenei’s Instagram account on Friday posted an excerpt from a February 7 speech when he said Iran needed to verify that US sanctions had been removed in line with the JCPOA, which he said was “agreed on by all authorities in the country.”
Hardliner Hossein Shariatmadari, whose Kayhan daily is financed by Khamenei's office.
On Saturday Khamenei’s website (Khamenei.ir) published an interview with Iran’s UN envoy Majid Takht-Ravanchi in which he said that “signing [an agreement] without [allowing] verification is meaningless.” Takht-Ravanchi explained that Iran needed guarantees over being able to sell oil and access international payments – which US sanctions have blocked. Takht-Ravanchi said Iran should be compensated for losses incurred by US sanctions violating the JCPOA.
Ali Rabiei, spokesman of the government of President Hassan Rouhani, in a note published by Iran newspaper, on Saturday made no mention of verification. He wrote that the Biden administration was on the verge of abandoning the “maximum pressure” of President Donald Trump and that sanctions would be lifted despite any “diplomatic wrangling” between Tehran and Washington: “Hopes of the United States making its decisions based on rationality are noticeably higher in comparison with the past few months.”
The US this week eased restrictions imposed by the Trump administration in 2019 on Iranian diplomats’ movements in New York and rescinded Trump’s claim that all UN sanctions were reimposed on Iran. On February 18 the Biden administration offered to join multilateral talks with Iran to discuss a return to the JCPOA. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Friday, said there was no plan for “additional steps” on Iran in advance of “diplomatic conversation.”
Psaki referred to an invitation for talks from “the Europeans…simply an invitation to have a conversation.” It was unclear whether this would simply extend Thursday’s talks between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of the three European JCPOA signatories – France, Germany, and the UK.
In an interview with CNN at the start of February Zarif suggested Josep Borrell, the European Union policy chief, “could choreograph the actions that are needed to be taken by the United States and the actions that are needed to be taken by Iran.” This was possible, Zarif explained, if Borrell put on his “hat” as coordinator for the Joint Commission of the JCPOA. This would presumably be compatible with Iran’s insistence that the US should return to the deal before joining discussions within the JCPOA’s framework, which includes Russia and China.
While welcoming the two moves taken by the Biden administration this week as signs of goodwill, Rabiei said that the government was obliged by a law recently passed in parliament to suspend application of Iran’s Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would restrict access of UN inspectors. Rabiei insisted this would not be “a hurdle…in the process of mutual return to commitments [under the deal]” and that Iran was ready to bring its nuclear program in line with the JCPOA “immediately when the sanctions are lifted.”