While U.S. President Joe Biden insisted Sunday that Tehran must halt its uranium enrichment program before the U.S. rejoins the Iran nuclear deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif countered that it was former President Donald Trump who abandoned the agreement and deprived Iranians of food and medicine—and therefore the onus is on Washington to bring the U.S. back into compliance with the pact by lifting all sanctions on Iran.
"The sooner the current administration returns to international obligations, the sooner it can start rebuilding its reputation across the globe."
—Javad Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has demanded that Tehran adhere to the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) before the U.S. does. When asked by CBS anchor Norah O'Donnell on Sunday if the U.S. will "lift sanctions first in order to get back to the negotiating table," Biden responded curtly: "No." And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday reiterated that "it's really up to Iran to come back."
But Zarif made the case that "it was the United States that left the deal [and] it was the United States that violated the deal" in 2018 when Trump withdrew from the agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran. "So it is for the United States to return to the deal to implement its obligations."
"Iran never left the deal," Zarif told CNN host Fareed Zakaria on Sunday. "Iran is in the deal. Iran has reduced some of its commitments, in line with the deal," he said, referring to Iran's decision to resume uranium enrichment—though well below levels required to develop nuclear weapons— after the U.S. breached the agreement by reinstating sanctions.
"The way to go back to full compliance, on the part of Iran, is for the United States, which has totally left the deal, to come back and implement its obligations," Iran's foreign minister added. "Now it's clear, it's a decision that President Biden and his advisers need to [m]ake. Whether they want to break with the failed policies of President Trump, or whether they want to build on his failures."
"If they want to build on his failures" Zarif warned, "they will only get failure as a result."
The US left & violated the nuclear deal. So it's the US that has to return & implement its obligations.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) February 8, 2021
President Biden has a choice: Break with Trump's failed policies, or build on his failures. Building on his failures will only bring further failure. https://t.co/Q0MIEsGtXt
According to Zarif, Iran has "a statutory requirement to reduce the presence of U.N. inspectors... somewhere around February 21," at which point "you will not see the additional protocol implemented in Iran," a reference to Tehran's plan to expel United Nations nuclear inspectors if the U.S. does not lift sanctions in the next two weeks.
"That doesn't mean the window [for diplomacy] is fully shut," Zarif added, stressing that "if the United States and its partners return to the deal, return to full compliance, Iran will reverse its actions. All the actions we are taking are reversible."
"But obviously," Iran's top diplomat noted, "it would be much simpler if the United States decided to make good on its commitments earlier rather than later. And it is good for the United States' reputation because President Trump not only destroyed the reputation of the United States domestically but he destroyed the reputation of the United States internationally."
Emphasizing that an "international agreement is not a revolving door" enabling one party "to simply come and go as they please," Zarif said that "the United States must make it clear and must give guarantees to Iran and other members of the deal that the behavior of President Trump will not be repeated because the international community has suffered enough from the lawlessness of somebody who acts on a whim."
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Psaki on Monday claimed that "if Iran comes into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States will do the same, and then use that as a platform to build a larger and stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern."
"The entire nuclear deal is non-negotiable because it was fully negotiated. We need to implement something that we negotiated."
With respect to U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan's previously stated desire to make negotiating limitations on Iran's ballistic missile program a precondition for U.S. reentry into the deal, Zarif said that Sullivan, who was part of the Obama team that negotiated the JCPOA in 2015, "should know better."
According to Zarif, "It was because of the United States' inability to address its own military sales to our region, hundreds of billions of dollars of military sales... going to the countries that are committing genocide and war crimes in Yemen and elsewhere" that restricting Iran's ballistic missile program was not on the negotiating table more than five years ago.
"We agreed on what to deal with and what not to deal with," added Zarif. "The United States cannot base its policy on 'what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable.'"
Stressing that "we do not buy the horse twice," Zarif clarified that "the entire nuclear deal is non-negotiable because it was fully negotiated. We need to implement something that we negotiated."
Iran's foreign minister continued:
Put yourselves in our shoes. You agreed to a deal. You agreed to give and take. You agreed to sacrifice certain demands that you had because you agreed not to deal with certain issues...
We waited for five years. The United States did not implement the deal, but we did implement the deal. And we did fulfill our promises, and we are going to fulfill our promises again if the United States fulfills its promises...
We agreed on the JCPOA. The United States should start making good on its promises that it violated for four very, very long years for Iranians.
"The sooner... the current administration returns to... international obligations," said Zarif, "the sooner it can start rebuilding its reputation across the globe."