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Iran says could reverse nuclear law if sanctions scrapped

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (State Department/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says a law passed by parliament to expand and accelerate the country’s nuclear program will not be implemented if international sanctions on Tehran are dropped.

“We will implement it because it [will be] the law of the land…[but] it is not irreversible,” he told an Italian diplomatic conference via video link on December 3.

Zarif reiterated arguments that Iran is within its rights to reduce compliance with a landmark 2015 agreement with world powers after U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of it and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

However, President-elect Joe Biden has said he will rejoin it if Tehran first resumes strict compliance. He has also said he would work with allies “to strengthen and extend it.”

Under the deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran pledged to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

But Iranian lawmakers on December 1 approved a bill to suspend UN inspections of the country’s nuclear facilities and boost its uranium enrichment if the remaining signatories to JCPOA do not provide relief from sanctions.

The hard-line-led parliament’s passing of the legislation was also seen as a show of defiance days after the assassination on November 27 of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was at the heart of the country’s past covert nuclear program, on the outskirts of Tehran.

Zarif said that if the United States honored its original commitments, Tehran would show full compliance with the pact.

“[If the United States and Europe] come back into full compliance with the JCPOA, not only will this law not be implemented, but in fact our actions, the actions we have taken…will be rescinded, that is, we will go back into full compliance,” Zarif said.

In a related development, Iranian President Hassan Rohani on December 3 warned hard-line lawmakers who passed the legislation against interfering with the country’s nuclear policy.

“Our brothers [in parliament] should not make hasty decisions….Let those who know about diplomacy deal with these issues with the needed maturity, calm, and attention,” Rohani said on state television.

Prisoner Swaps

Zarif also added that Tehran is prepared for more prisoner exchanges after swapping a jailed British-Australian academic with three Iranians detained abroad last week.

“We can always engage in that, it is in the interests of everybody,” Zarif told the diplomatic conference.

“Iran is ready to reciprocate. We can do it tomorrow. We can also do it today,” he added.

Iran on November 25 released detained British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was serving a 10-year prison sentence for spying, in exchange for three Iranians held abroad.

Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies at Melbourne University, was sent to Tehran’s Evin prison in September 2018 on widely criticized espionage charges.

International pressure on Iran to secure her release had grown in recent months following reports that her health was deteriorating in solitary confinement and that she had been transferred to Qarchak prison, east of Tehran.