Iran said the U.S. has to remove key economic sanctions and return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal before any talks on resetting Tehran’s atomic program.
The U.S. "cannot return to the nuclear accord with one signature in the way that they left with one," Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a press conference in Tehran on Monday.
The statement is a clear signal to the Biden administration that Iran expects relief from sanctions, and the full restoration of the United Nations resolution that underpins the deal, before it starts scaling back its nuclear activities. It also illustrates the major gulf between the longtime rivals. Last week, new Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Iran needs to act first and any U.S. return to the accord may take a while.
"We’re waiting for U.S. action to effectively undo sanctions, give us access to our own funds, permit easy oil exports and allow the transfer of oil revenue, shipping and insurance," Khatibzadeh told reporters, referring to billions of dollars of payments for oil exports that are trapped overseas because of banking sanctions.
Iran began enriching uranium to levels that exceed allowed limits after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. from the accord and imposed sanctions in 2018.
Khatibzadeh said there won’t be any direct bilateral talks with the U.S. until it first returns to the original bloc of six powers that brokered the accord. Washington can then join discussions over Iran’s nuclear work but within the existing mechanism that’s outlined within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
"As soon as the U.S. starts to take effective measures, Iran will respond proportionately," Khatibzadeh said.
The stalemate raises questions over whether the crisis can be resolved before the Islamic Republic hits a deadline later this month to secure sanctions removal, or else end voluntary international nuclear inspections. Moderates in Iran are also hoping for a boost from the lifting of some sanctions ahead of presidential elections set for June.
The White House on Friday appointed Robert Malley, who served on the Obama administration team that negotiated the original deal, to serve as envoy to Iran.
Malley has a long background in conflict resolution in the Middle East and his arrival was broadly welcomed by proponents of the accord.