TEHRAN (Dispatches) – Iran warned the Biden administration on Tuesday that it will not have an indefinite time period on its disposal to lift sanctions on Tehran and rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei urged U.S. President Joe Biden to lift sanctions which he said are hampering Tehran’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sanctions reimposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump formally exempt food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies, but many foreign banks have been deterred from doing business with Iran.
"Since (Biden’s) administration claims not to be anti-science like the previous one ..., one expects it to free the transfer of Iran’s own foreign exchange resources to fight the coronavirus and for health and food, and lift banking sanctions quickly,” Rabiei said in televised remarks.
Though Biden has pledged to return to the nuclear deal, Rabiei said, "The U.S. will not have all the time in the world.”
"We are waiting for the official announcement of their stance as well as the lifting of sanctions.”
In the meantime, he said Iran would block short-notice inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the United Nations atomic agency if Washington did not lift sanctions.
Rabiei said the first steps to restrict inspections related to the Additional Protocol would begin in the first week of the Iranian month of Esfand, which starts on Feb. 19.
"Our law is very clear regarding this issue,” he told a televised news conference. "But it does not mean Iran will stop other inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
Iran’s parliament passed a law in December that obliges the government to harden its nuclear stance if U.S. sanctions are not lifted in two months.
But Iran has repeatedly said it can quickly reverse its steps if U.S. sanctions are removed.
Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif reiterated that possibility at a news conference in Moscow on Tuesday.
"If favorable actions are taken before that time... Iran will not interfere with the admission of (IAEA) inspectors under the additional protocol,” he said.
No Plans for Talks With
Tehran’s UN ambassador told NBC News on Monday that Iran has no plans to hold talks with the Biden administration and is waiting for the new U.S. president to take the first step to lift sanctions and return the U.S. to the nuclear agreement.
In his first interview since Biden was sworn in last week, Amb. Majid Takht Ravanchi said Iran has not spoken to the new administration yet.
"No, there has not been any conversation between Iran and the U.S. after Biden came into office,” he said.
Asked if there were plans to open up a direct dialogue with Washington or indirect communication through an intermediary, perhaps via the Swiss government, Ravanchi
said, "We are not planning to initiate anything.”
The Swiss foreign ministry handles any official U.S. communication with Iran, because Washington has no embassy in Tehran and no formal diplomatic relations with Iran.
The Iranian diplomat said Tehran was not prepared to offer goodwill gestures or confidence-building steps until the U.S. returned to the nuclear agreement it left in 2018.
In the meantime, Iran was in no rush, Ravanchi said. "It’s up to the U.S. to decide what course of action to take. We’re not in a hurry,” he said.
As a candidate, Biden said he would have the United States return to the agreement if Iran met its obligations under the deal.
Citing Biden’s statements, Ravanchi said Iran wanted to see the new president make good on his promises and if he did, Tehran would be ready to once again abide by the terms of the accord.
"The ball is in the U.S. court,” Ravanchi said. "It is totally up to the new administration. So as soon as they implement their obligations, Iran has said on numerous occasions that Iran will return to the full implementation of its undertakings.”
Members of Biden’s national security team have suggested the new administration was not on the verge of a quick decision to rejoin the nuclear deal.
"We are a long way from there,” Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 19.
Avril Haines, Biden’s choice as director of national intelligence, also indicated at her Senate confirmation hearing that there was no imminent decision coming on returning to the agreement.
Iran this month resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile strength at the underground Fordow nuclear plant, a level Tehran achieved before striking the 2015 deal.
Ravanchi said Iran does not seek a nuclear arsenal and simply wants to build a nuclear energy program for civilian purposes.
He said it would be "absurd” for Iran to take conciliatory steps now when it was the U.S. that violated the 2015 agreement by withdrawing.
"Words are not enough. We need to see action on the part of the United States,” he said.
Ravanchi said Iran would be open to an exchange of Iranian nationals detained in the United States in return for American citizens imprisoned in Iran.
"We are ready to engage on a comprehensive exchange of all prisoners or detainees on both sides, in the United States, in Iran, and those that are waiting to be extradited to the United States. And this is a very simple and straightforward proposition.”
Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Blinken, told senators last week that securing the release of Americans held in Iran or elsewhere abroad would be a top priority.
Ravanchi also reiterated Iran’s vow that it would retaliate for the U.S. assassination of top Gen. Qassem Soleimani a year ago.
He said that ex-President Trump "started a very dangerous game by assassinating General Soleimani. And we said that this cannot be unpunished. So this is our position.”