Iran FM dismisses U.S. counterpart’s claim on nuclear breakout time

February 2, 2021 - 21:49

TEHRAN – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to the claim by his American counterpart that Iran could be weeks away from developing nuclear weapons by saying that claim was more aimed at public opinion than reality.

“I think that is a statement of concern that is more addressed to public opinion than to reality. Iran does not seek a nuclear weapon. If we wanted to build a nuclear weapon, we could have done it some time ago. But we decided that nuclear weapons will not augment our security and are in contradiction to our ideological views. And that’s why we never pursued nuclear weapons,” Zarif said in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour late on Monday.

The Iranian foreign minister was responding to earlier comments by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which he claimed that Iran might be months away from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

In a Sunday interview with NBC News, Blinken claimed that Tehran was months away from being able to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, saying it could be only “a matter of weeks” if Iran continues to lift restraints in the nuclear deal.

Blinken also expressed the U.S. willingness to rejoin the nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)- but he conditioned the U.S. return on Iran first reversing all the nuclear measures it adopted in response to the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA under Trump.

The chief U.S. diplomat pointed out that the U.S. is willing to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal if Iran does and then works with U.S. allies and partners on a “longer and stronger” agreement encompassing other issues.

During his election, then-candidate Joe Biden promised to return to the JCPOA. And after winning the U.S. presidential election in November, Biden said he still stood by his election promise but said that delivering on this promise would be “hard” and “very difficult.”

Biden did not present any timetable for the U.S. to return to the JCPOA and his secretary of state even said the U.S. is not in a rush to rejoin the nuclear deal. During his confirmation session in the Senate, Blinken had said the U.S. was still a long way from reentering the nuclear agreement with Iran, thereby implying that the U.S. may wait for some time before rejoining the deal.

But the Iranian foreign minister underlined the U.S. does not have the luxury of biding its time on Iran.

“The time for the United States to come back to the nuclear agreement is not unlimited. The United States has a limited window of opportunity,” Zarif warned, noting “because President Biden does not want to portray himself as trying to take advantage of the failed policies of the former Trump administration.”

Responding to a question on Biden’s mid-September op-ed for CNN in which he vowed to rejoin the JCPOA if Iran strictly complies with it, Zarif said the U.S. needs to restore the broken trust and then address the issues stipulated in the September op-ed.

“First of all, the United States needs to establish its bona fides to come back to the nuclear deal. The United States is not in the nuclear deal. And it’s not in the nuclear deal because of its own decision to withdraw without taking the routes that were available to it within the nuclear agreement,” the Iranian foreign minister noted.

He also pointed to the nuclear steps Iran took in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. On the first anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal, Iran embarked on a policy of gradually reducing its commitments under the JCPOA. It took five steps in this regard. In early January, Iran further reduced commitments by starting 20% uranium enrichment.

Zarif said these steps were taken in line with the terms of the deal itself, and thus they do not constitute a violation of the deal.

“Iran used the mechanisms in the nuclear agreement in order to limit its cooperation. If you read paragraph 36, we acted in strict accordance with the nuclear agreement,” Zarif pointed out.

The chief Iranian diplomat, who led Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the West, called on the U.S. to return to the JCPOA, underlining that if Washington does so, Iran will immediately follow suit.

“Now, the United States needs to come back into compliance and Iran will be ready immediately to respond. The timing is not the issue. The issue is whether the United States, whether the new administration, wants to follow the failed policies of the Trump administration or not.”

Turning to Biden’s “other issues of concern,” Zarif implied that Iran is ready to discuss these issues but not in the framework of the JCPOA because this deal was signed as a result of Iran and the U.S. knowingly deciding to agree on what they could agree upon.

 The nuclear deal was negotiated based on what Tehran and Washington could agree and what they could not agree, Zarif remarked. “This is the deal that was made. The United States has to accept what we agreed upon. We decided not to agree upon certain things not because we neglected them but because the United States and its allies were not prepared to do what was necessary. Is the United States prepared to stop selling arms to our region?” he continued.

Zarif says EU’s Borrell can ‘choreograph’ the process of reviving JCPOA

With respect to the issue of who makes the first move to revive the JCPOA, Zarif noted that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell can “choreograph” the process of reviving the deal.
According to Zarif, there can be a mechanism through which Borrell would synchronize or coordinate what can be done to revive the JCPOA.

“JCPOA has a mechanism built into the deal that is the Joint Commission. And the Joint Commission has a coordinator. The coordinator has two hats – it used to be Federica Mogherini now it is Josep Borrell. He has two hats; One hat is he is the high representative of the European Union for foreign defense policy. The other hat is the coordinator of the Joint Commission. He can put his hat as the coordinator of the Joint Commission and sort of choreograph the actions that are needed to be taken by the United States and the actions that are needed to be taken by Iran,” Zarif stated.