Biden says US will not lift sanctions to bring Iran back to talks

Stalemate as US president says Tehran must return to full compliance with 2015 nuclear deal

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei  delivers a speech to commanders of the air force on Sunday. Photograph: Iran supreme leader’s office handout/AFP via Getty Images

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech to commanders of the air force on Sunday. Photograph: Iran supreme leader’s office handout/AFP via Getty Images

 

US sanctions on Iran will be lifted only if it stops enriching uranium, and not simply to attract Tehran back to the negotiating table, Joe Biden has warned.

The US president’s comments, made in an interview with CBS News released on Sunday, came as Iran’s supreme leader reiterated that Tehran would not return to full compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with world powers in 2015 until the US lifted all sanctions.

“If the US wants to go back to its commitment under JCPOA [the nuclear accord], it should lift sanctions altogether ... in practice not in words or on paper,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said at a meeting with the army’s top brass marking the 42nd anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

“We will then verify the US measures and if we are confident the sanctions are lifted properly, we could go back to our commitments,” he said, adding “we will not return from this policy”.

Commenting on Sunday’s apparent stalemate, an Iranian analyst who asked not to be named, said “If the US retreats, its hegemony would be damaged and if Iran retreats it would lose its image and credibility”. He added: “This is not a stand-off but needs a change of the game like a visit by the UN secretary-general to Tehran.”

Saeed Laylaz, an analyst close to the government of Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said the ayatollah spoke from a position of power, thanks to the regime’s survival under the toughest of sanctions. But he said the comments did not mean Tehran had hardened its position ahead of possible talks with the Biden administration.

Donald Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear deal in 2018, prompting Iran to roll back most of its commitments under the terms of the accord. The country began a 20 per cent enrichment of uranium in January, an increase from about 4 per cent, a further breach of the agreement, bringing it closer to being able to produce weapons-grade uranium, which requires 90 per cent purity. Iran denies any intention to make a bomb.

French president Emmanuel Macron said ast week he could be an “honest broker” in negotiations between the US and Iran, adding that Saudi Arabia and Israel had to be involved in the next round of talks given their concerns about Tehran’s regional and military policies. The ayatollah hit back, implying the French president was not in a position to tell Iran what to do.

Mr Biden’s national security adviser , Jake Sullivan, said last Thursday the US was “actively engaged” in consultations with its European allies to “produce a unified front when it comes to our strategy towards Iran and towards dealing with diplomacy around the nuclear file”.

The ayatollah said he would not respond to “some nonsense” by figures in Europe and the US. “Logically speaking, the US and three European states trampled upon all their JCPOA commitments and have no right to set conditions now,” he said. “The side which can put conditions on is Iran because Iran implemented all its commitments.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021