Iranian FM calls for U.S. ‘political statement’ on commitment to nuclear deal

February 16, 2022 - 22:18

TEHRAN-- Iran has proposed that the U.S. Congress makes a “political statement” of its commitment to a nuclear accord with Tehran as talks in Vienna to revive the deal reach a critical juncture.

In an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, foreign minister, said Washington had failed to address Iran’s demand for guarantees that no party is able to abandon the deal, as the U.S. did under former president Donald Trump in 2018. 

Tehran also wants all sanctions imposed by Trump to be lifted. “As a matter of principle, public opinion in Iran cannot accept as a guarantee the words of a head of state, let alone the United States, due to the withdrawal of Americans from the JCPOA,” Amir Abdollahian said, using the acronym for the accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

Experts say it is virtually impossible for the Biden administration to provide the legal assurances Tehran demands. But Amir Abdollahian said he had told Iran’s negotiators to propose to Western parties that “at least their parliaments or parliament speakers, including the U.S. Congress, can declare in the form of a political statement their commitment to the agreement and return to the JCPOA implementation.” 

‘Iran’s commitments are as clear as a mathematical formula… but we remain concerned primarily about the guarantees [that the U.S. would not withdraw].” 

President Joe Biden wants to revive the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activity in return for the lifting of sanctions. But while indirect talks between Washington and Tehran are taking place in Vienna, U.S. and European officials have repeatedly warned that — given the nuclear gains Iran has made since 2019 — time is running out to save the accord. 

Biden said the U.S. would return to the deal if Iran agreed to reverse the aggressive advances it had made to its nuclear program over the past three years, with the republic enriching uranium at its highest ever levels. 

Amir Abdollahian said: “Iran’s commitments are as clear as a mathematical formula. It is absolutely clear what we are supposed to do and how these measures will be verified through the IAEA [the UN nuclear watchdog]. Therefore the other side can have no concern. But we remain concerned primarily about the guarantees [that the U.S. would not withdraw].” 

Expressing Tehran’s frustrations with Washington’s position as weeks of talks in Vienna appear at risk of stalling, he said: “We are facing problems during this period because the other party lacks a serious initiative.” 

Iran wants the negotiations to lead to the “total lifting” of sanctions 

Diplomats and analysts say the EU-brokered negotiations had been more constructive in recent weeks. A senior U.S. official said last month that the negotiations in January “were among the most intensive”, adding that “we made progress narrowing down the list of differences to just the key priorities on all sides”. But the official warned that “we only have a handful of weeks left to get a deal” because of Iran’s nuclear advances. 

The other crucial issue for Iran is the scale of sanctions relief any agreement would provide. Amir Abdollahian said that Iran wanted the negotiations to lead to the “total lifting” of sanctions. 

The challenge, however, was that the Biden administration was only willing to remove the economic sanctions authorized by Trump, he said. “This is not all we are looking for.

That Trump unilaterally and unjustly imposed sanctions on real and legal entities in Iran under some allegations as Iran’s missile program, regional issues or human rights is not acceptable,” Amir Abdollahian said. “This is also one of the challenges which remains on the negotiating table in Vienna.” 

Trump infuriated Tehran by sanctioning dozens of senior Iranian officials, the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and religious foundations. He also designated the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

Amir Abdollahian said U.S. officials had sent “many messages” to have direct talks with Iran, but ruled out any such move. “Our last response to Americans and intermediaries was: any direct dialogue, contact and negotiation with the U.S. would have very huge costs for my government,” the foreign minister said. “We are not ready to enter into the process of direct talks with the U.S. if we do not have a clear and promising outlook to reach a good agreement with sustainable guarantees in front of us.” 

He added that Tehran had indicated to the U.S. that if Washington’s “intentions are genuine, you should take some practical and tangible steps on the ground before any direct talks and contacts can take place”. This could include unfreezing billions of dollars of Iranian petrodollars stuck in foreign central banks because of Trump’s sanctions or a presidential executive order to lift some of the sanctions, he said. 

However, Amir Abdollahian said that in “general, we are optimistic”. “We also welcome a good deal in the shortest time however this deal must uphold the rights of the Iranian people,” he said.