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Iran sets deadline for Biden to return US to nuke deal, says ‘window closing’

Joe Biden. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
January 29, 2021

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, said President Joe Biden faces a narrow window before a new deadline to bring the U.S. back into the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal.

In an interview with USA Today, Ravanchi said “the window is closing” and Biden “must act quickly” to reverse the Trump-era sanctions and return to the JCPOA, which President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2018. Iran’s parliament set Feb. 21 as the deadline for Biden to return to the deal.

Iran has said that if the U.S. doesn’t meet its deadline to return to the deal, it will boost uranium enrichment and block United Nations inspectors from inspecting some of its nuclear sites.

“We have said time and again that if the U.S. decides to go back to its international commitments and lift all the illegal sanctions against Iran, we will go back to the full implementation of JCPOA, which will benefit all sides,” Ravanchi told USA Today.

Since the U.S. withdrew from the agreement, Iran has gradually increased its uranium enrichment and stockpiling in violation of its commitments under the deal. In November, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported Iran has stockpiled 12 times the limit of uranium allowed under the 2015 deal and has enriched uranium to a purity of 4.5 percent, higher than the 3.67 percent allowed under the deal. According to USA Today, Iran’s enrichment has reached 20 percent, and 90 percent uranium enrichment is needed for a nuclear weapon.

Asked on Friday about Ravanchi’s comments, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to provide a specific timeline for the Biden administration’s approach to Iran talks.

“The first step here is for Iran to comply with the significant nuclear constraints under the deal,” Psaki said at the White House press briefing on Friday.

Biden has repeatedly said he would bring the U.S. back into the Iran nuclear deal. Biden’s campaign website said he “would re-enter the agreement, using hard-nosed diplomacy and support from our allies to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s other destabilizing activities.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have opposed Biden returning to the Iran deal as it stands.

In a December letter, obtained by Real Clear Politics, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) urged then-President Trump to submit the Iran deal to the Senate for consideration as a treaty. The Senate has the constitutional role to provide advice and consent, by a two-thirds vote, for treaties entered into under the executive branch. The U.S. became a party to the Iran deal under the contention that the deal is not a treaty, and thus not subject to the Senate’s advice and consent role. Cruz wrote that by submitting the Iran deal for Senate consent, the Senate would “be able to satisfy its constitutional role to provide advice and consent in the event any future administration attempts to revive these dangerous deals.”

Other lawmakers have suggested using Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions to get new concessions out of Iran before returning to the deal, such as limits to its missile program and support for terrorism and other malign activities.

“I fear returning to the JCPOA without concrete efforts to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activity would be insufficient,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told Biden’s Secrerary of State Antony Blinken at a confirmation hearing last week.

At his confirmation hearing, Blinken said the Biden administration could use the 2015 deal as a “platform” for a “longer and stronger” agreement with Iran “to deal with a number of other issues that are deeply problematic in the relationship with Iran.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has already said Iran’s missile program will not be part of negotiations for a return to the 2015 deal.

“The Americans were trying for months to add the missile issue (to the nuclear talks) and this was rejected. (President Donald) Trump was uninformed and did not know about the matter, but Mr. Biden is well aware of the details of the deal,” Rouhani said. “I have not heard Biden say that we have to reach another agreement in order to return to the nuclear deal. That is what Trump says.”