Election looming, Iran’s Rouhani says hardliners obstruct goal to lift US sanctions

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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani accused hardline opponents on Wednesday of obstructing efforts to lift US sanctions, in remarks that demonstrate how an upcoming election in Iran is now looming over the new US administration’s plan for a thaw.

“It is a great betrayal of the Iranian nation if any faction or person delays the end of the sanctions even for one hour,” Hassan Rouhani said in televised remarks.

“The small minority that is obstructing this path needs to stop its destructive act. If it stops … the government can break the sanctions,” Rouhani added without elaborating.

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The new US administration of President Joe Biden aims to revive an agreement abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump, under which Iran accepted curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions. After Trump quit the pact and reimposed sanctions, Iran took steps that violate the deal’s nuclear limits.

So far, Iran and the Biden administration are at loggerheads over which side should move first to revive the agreement, with Tehran demanding Washington first lift sanctions and Washington calling on Tehran first to resume compliance with the deal.

“Today, conditions are better than ever for the lifting of the sanctions,” Rouhani said on Wednesday. The Americans, he said, are willing to return to the deal. However, he added: “Words are not enough. We are waiting for action.”

Rouhani’s close ally Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said this week that unless progress is made soon on restoring the nuclear deal, diplomacy would be halted for months by Iran’s presidential election scheduled for June 18.

On Tuesday France’s foreign minister blamed Iranian pre-election politics for hindering the nuclear deal’s revival.

The stalled nuclear deal has been a flagship policy for Rouhani, a pragmatist who won landslide victories in the last two presidential elections against hardline opponents by promising to open Iran’s economy up to the world.

Rouhani is barred from standing for a third term and the slate of candidates has yet to be finalized.

Iran’s hardliners say US sanctions are proof that Rouhani’s policy of reaching out to enemies was a failure. A delay in progress on the nuclear issue could hurt the chances of a moderate succeeding Rouhani, although the final decision on any diplomatic initiative would be taken by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rather than the elected president.

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