Zarif rules out new talks on JCPOA, calls on U.S. to make up its mind

February 8, 2021 - 21:30

TEHRAN – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif has ruled out any new talks with the United States on the 2015 nuclear deal, underlining the need for the U.S. to make up its mind about Iran.

In a Sunday interview with CNN's Farid Zakaria, the chief Iranian diplomat said Tehran has never withdrawn from the nuclear deal –officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - but just scaled down its commitments after former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal, Press TV reported.

It was Trump that withdrew from the nuclear deal and Biden must return to the same agreement, which has been previously negotiated, the Iranian foreign minister said.

Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, based on allegations that the deal was flawed. Trump then launched what he called a “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran in a bid to squeeze Iran “until the pips squeak,” according to the former U.S. national security advisor, John Bolton.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei said Sunday that the pressure campaign was aimed at bringing Iran to its knees.

Ayatollah Khamenei described the imposition of unprecedented sanctions on Iran as another miscalculation aimed at bringing Iran to its knees.

“One of those ‘first-rate fools’ said that they would celebrate New Year 2019 in Tehran. That person has been sent to history’s trash can, and his boss has also been kicked out of the White House with disgrace, but the Islamic Republic is still standing strong on its feet, with God’s grace,” the Leader said in an apparent reference to Bolton and his former boss Trump.

Trump’s pressure campaign failed to achieve its stated goals, something that prompted Biden to publicly oppose Trump's Iran policies and vow to change them.

Biden voiced strong criticism of Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA during his 2020 campaign when he also promised to rejoin the accord signed when he was vice president. However, he has failed to take corrective measures since he assumed office on January 20.

Iran says the United States’ potential return to the JCPOA could only be meaningful if Washington removed all of the sanctions.

“If they want Iran to return to its JCPOA commitments, the U.S. should lift all sanctions in action. After they have done this, we will check if the sanctions have truly been lifted. Once this is done, we will resume our JCPOA commitments,” the Leader wisely said in remarks delivered at a meeting with some commanders and staff of the Air Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army on Sunday.

He added, “On the issue of sanctions, first of all, no one in the Islamic Republic believes what those incompetent prattlers say – whether they are in European countries or the U.S. Secondly if we want to be reasonable, the U.S. and the three European countries do not have the right to set terms and conditions because they have violated all of their JCOPA commitments. They have not honored any of their commitments.”

 ‘JCPOA is purely a nuclear deal and cannot include other issues’

The U.S. and Europe said that they want to see the JCPOA revived only to use it as a starting point to address other non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s defensive missile program and its regional activities.

But Zarif said the JCPOA is purely a nuclear deal and cannot include non-nuclear issues.

He pointed to the American officials’ remarks about the necessity of including ballistic missiles in any talks with Iran over a new nuclear deal, emphasizing that the JCPOA is an agreement, which has been achieved through negotiations and it cannot be renegotiated.

If you seek to hold talks about weapons, you have to take all aspects of this issue into consideration, the chief Iranian diplomat noted.

Iran’s foreign minister pointed out that the U.S. should not talk about Iran’s defense capabilities, but rather it should address the whole issue of weapons in the West Asia region, especially those being used against women and children in Yemen.

While Saudi Arabia spent more than 70 billion dollars to buy military hardware last year, the United Arab Emirates, with a population of about 1.5 million, spent about 22 billion dollars on purchasing arms, Zarif noted, quoting figures from the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

He added that despite having more than one million official military personnel, Iran’s military expenditure does not exceed 10-11 billion dollars.

Zarif also called on the U.S. to show some “tough love” to its allies and tell them to stop the war in Yemen, adding that Iran is willing to work with the UN envoy on Yemen and will meet him on Monday.

The United Nations special envoy on Yemen, Martin Griffiths, began a two-day visit to Iran on Sunday to discuss issues related to the Yemen crisis.

“The visit is part of the Special Envoy’s diplomatic efforts to support a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Yemen that meets the aspirations of the Yemeni people. The Special Envoy’s immediate priority is to support agreement between the parties to the conflict on a nationwide ceasefire, urgent humanitarian measures and the resumption of the political process,” the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen said in a statement ahead of the visit.

In a separate exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on February 2, the Iranian foreign minister had said the JCPOA did not include Iran’s defensive capabilities, because the U.S. was not prepared to stop its arms sales to the region as a precondition.

“The nuclear deal was negotiated based on what we could agree and what we could not agree. This is the deal that was made,” Zarif said.

 ‘Meaningless and ambiguous remarks’

The Iranian foreign minister also said in another televised interview on Sunday night that U.S. President Joe Biden has to make a decision about the JCPOA.

He urged the Biden administration to make up its mind about the policy it seeks to adopt vis-à-vis Iran and the 2015 nuclear deal, and stop making “meaningless and ambiguous” remarks, according to Press TV.

“Biden has yet to make up his mind about what he wants to do. They ought to make a decision whether they are going to continue Trump’s policy or adopt a new one,” Zarif noted.

“The Biden administration has not yet made any decision on what it is going to do, and their words are ambiguous and meaningless. They still have time to correct their remarks,” he continued.

Zarif’s remarks came after Biden said in a Friday interview with CBS, which was aired on Sunday, that he would not lift sanctions in order to encourage Iran to start new talks with the United States.

Asked whether he would halt sanctions to convince Iran to return to the negotiating table, Biden simply said “No.”

The journalist then asked if the Iranians would first have to stop enriching uranium, which drew an affirmative nod from Biden.

However, after hours of debate and controversy over the issue among international experts and journalists, a senior U.S. official later made it clear to Reuters that Biden meant Iran must stop enriching uranium beyond the limits under the JCPOA.

In his Sunday interview, the Iranian foreign minister said before returning to the JCPOA, the U.S. needs to prove it would not happen again.

How should Iran make sure “someone like Trump will not take office and tear apart the deal again?” Zarif asked.

“The Americans must prove the Trump experience will not be repeated. This is not a precondition, this is a subject of talks,” he added.

The Iranian foreign minister stressed that the U.S. must guarantee it will not repeat its previous moves, and also deal with the damages it caused on the Iranian nation by leaving the deal and re-imposing its sanctions.

“However, the first step is the implementation of commitments,” Zarif said, making it clear that Iran’s return to compliance with the deal is merely dependent on the U.S. return.

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