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Iran’s Khamenei says US must lift sanctions for Iran to return to nuke deal

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Ali Khamenei/Released)

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

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the United States must lift all sanctions if it wants Iran to return to the nuclear deal with Western powers, state TV has reported.

“If they want Iran to return to its commitments, the U.S. must lift all sanctions in practice, then we will do verification and see if the sanctions were lifted correctly, then we will return to our commitments,” Khamenei said.

Analysts say the televised comments mark Khamenei’s first since the inauguration of President Joe Biden, who has said he wants to rejoin the accord.

Speaking on CNN after Khamenei’s remarks, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that receiving compensation from the United States for the cost of sanctions imposed by Washington was not a “precondition” for restoring the nuclear deal.

Zarif also urged Washington to act fast to return to the 2015 nuclear deal in an interview published on February 6 in an Iranian newspaper.

“Time is running out for the Americans, both because of the parliament bill and the election atmosphere that will follow the Iranian New Year,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in the interview in Hamshahri.

Iran’s new year begins on March 21, and elections are in June.

Legislation passed by parliament in December forces the government to harden its nuclear stance if U.S. sanctions are not eased by February 21.

“The more America procrastinates, the more it will lose,” Zarif said in the interview. “We don’t need to return to the negotiating table. It’s America that has to find the ticket to come to the table.”

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018 and began restoring sanctions against Iran.

In response, Tehran has gradually breached parts of the pact, saying it was no longer bound by it. Last month, it resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent — a level it achieved before the accord.

Biden’s administration is exploring ways to return to the deal. Biden has said that if Tehran returned to strict compliance with the pact, Washington would follow suit, but Tehran has said Washington must ease sanctions first and has ruled out negotiations on wider security issues that would restrict Iran’s missile development, a suggestion raised by Washington.

In the latest steps by Iran to develop its missile program, the Iranian military on February 6 opened a plant to produce hybrid solid fuel for missiles and a factory to build shoulder-fired rockets, state television reported.

The foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Great Britain and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the landmark nuclear deal in their first call on February 5.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the foreign ministers discussed how a united approach could address their shared concerns toward Iran, which has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program was strictly for civilian purposes.

Separately, Iran’s Foreign Ministry commented on Washington’s decision to end its support for the Saudi-led coalition’s “offensive operations” in Yemen, saying it could be a helpful step.

“Stopping support…for the Saudi coalition, if not a political maneuver, could be a step toward correcting past mistakes,” state media quoted ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying.

But he added that the move alone won’t solve Yemen’s problems and called for an air, sea, and land blockade to be lifted and an end to military attacks by Saudi Arabia.

Biden said on February 4 the more than six-year war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, “has to end.” He also named veteran U.S. diplomat Timothy Lenderking as the U.S. special envoy for Yemen in a bid to step up U.S. diplomacy to try to end the war.