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Iran’s Zarif says Biden could lift Iran sanctions in no time

Iran’s foreign minister expressed optimism about Joe Biden’s presidency, noting that Washington’s return to the Iran nuclear deal could take place without preconditions.
The Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javad Zarif, speaks during a meeting with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez (out of frame), in Havana, on November 6, 2020. - Cuba and Iran's foreign ministers met in Havana on Friday to reinforce their mutual support in the face of crippling US sanctions. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP) (Photo by YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a recent interview with the state-funded Iran Newspaper that with Joe Biden in the Oval Office, a removal of sanctions against Tehran would take the new US president “only three executive orders.” Those sanctions were reimposed by President Donald Trump after his 2018 departure from the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The Iranian top diplomat added that in such case, Iran will return to full compliance with its deal obligations. In May 2019, Iran started a phased breach of its commitments in response to the US withdrawal and European signatories’ failure to live up to their economic promises under the accord.

According to Zarif, there is no need for “preconditions or negotiations” for the two sides to take those steps. “America’s option is a return to the accord and honoring its obligations under [UN] Resolution 2231. We will carry out our JCPOA obligations, too.”

The remarks contrasted with previous statements by President Hassan Rouhani, who has demanded that the United States pay compensation for economic damages to the Islamic Republic. Last week, however, the moderate president declared that “no one has the right to waste opportunities,” implying his government is ready for potential talks with a Biden administration.

Iran’s economy has been crumbling under Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, which has prompted a nosedive of the Iranian national currency and has significantly shrunk Tehran’s oil revenue. “We did come out victorious against the United States,” Zarif said, but admitted, “It is undeniable that our economy incurred losses from Trump sanctions.”

Zarif predicted that US foreign policy will shift under Biden, who will practice less “unilateralism” than Trump. “I have known him for 30 years,” Zarif said of several meetings in his capacity as Iran’s UN ambassador with the “veteran politician” when Biden chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In the Islamic Republic, strategic decisions as sensitive as rapprochement with arch-enemies have traditionally lied with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It was Khamenei’s initial green light that paved the way for the Rouhani team to break the ice with Western powers, including the United States, in marathon talks that culminated in the clinching of the nuclear accord in 2015.

Nonetheless, while Zarif and Rouhani are no longer concealing their optimism about a fresh opening with the United States, they face an uphill battle at home, to say the least. Their hard-line opponents have in recent weeks upped the revolutionary rhetoric, consistently warning against any negotiations with Washington.

Most recently, ultraconservative cleric and judiciary chief Ibrahim Raisi described Rouhani’s positive stance toward negotiations as “wrong signals” that counter “the nation’s message, which is one of active resistance.”

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