The US unilaterally scrapped its commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal in May 2018 amid lobbying by Israel. Iran began gradually reducing its commitments to the agreement a year later, accusing the JCPOA’s European signatories of failing to come up with a way to shield the Islamic Republic from US sanctions.
The Iran nuclear deal is not up for renegotiation, and Tehran is prepared to fully return to its terms and to scale back its nuclear activities if other parties are willing to fulfil their commitments, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh has indicated.
“Certainly, the JCPOA is a framework. We have negotiated it once and reached a framework that cannot be renegotiated and we are committed to it,” Khatibzadeh said in an interview with Hamshahri, a major Iranian national newspaper.
The US, the spokesman said, “outrageously violated” UN Security Council Resolution 2231 to endorse the JCPOA by unilaterally withdrawing from the treaty, “both by refraining from implementing its own commitments and preventing other signatories from fulfilling theirs.”
Other parties to the treaty, “especially” the UK, France, and Germany, also violated their commitments to the agreement by failing to shield Tehran from US sanctions pressure, Khatibzadeh added.
“If the day comes [when other parties begin fulfilling their commitments] we will rewind the steps we have taken to reduce our commitments within the framework of the JCPOA, which are reversible,” the spokesman emphasised.
Commenting on the Biden team’s repeated hints about rejoining the agreement, Khatibzadeh suggested that moves in this direction are an admission of the wrongheadedness of US policy.
“The US policy of ‘maximum pressure’ was a major setback for the United States. Whoever is in the White House has no choice but to correct this path,” he said. Accusing the “Trump regime” of having a “morbid obsession with Iran and the goal of confronting Iran,” Khatibzadeh said this policy has reached a state of “maximum defeat.”
Wait and See Approach to Biden
Asked about how Iran would approach a Biden administration, the spokesman said that while Tehran has followed his statements during the campaign very carefully, it would “need to see” in practice, not slogans, “how the next US administration will act.”
Iran has previously expressed cautious optimism over the prospect of a Biden administration returning to the JCPOA, but has also warned that it would not agree to any renegotiations of the landmark 2015 agreement. Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that although the Islamic Republic was “not excited” about Biden per se, it was “happy with the departure of terrorist Trump.” Rouhani expressed confidence that Biden would rejoin the JCPOA amid the failure of the Trump administration’s approach to Iran.
However, Zaynab Soleimani, daughter of slain Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, was less optimistic, saying Trump and Biden were essentially “the same guy…following the same policy” on Iran.
Tehran began scaling back some of its commitments to the JCPOA in May 2019, one year after the US’s withdrawal from the agreement, enabling it to increase uranium enrichment levels and stockpiles of nuclear material. At the same time, the country has maintained that it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons, or weapons of mass destruction of any kind.
In September 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated in a report that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles had reached 2,105 kg, or about 10 times the amount permitted under the JCPOA. This is still far below the 7,000 kg+ of nuclear material the country had amassed prior to joining the JCPOA. Iran is estimated to be enriching uranium-235 to levels of about 4.5 percent, above the 3.67 percent limit outlined by the JCPOA, but below the 20 percent enrichment rate it reached before signing the treaty. The country’s enrichment levels are still far below those required to build a nuke. For example, the nuclear bomb which the US dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 had an enrichment level of above 80 percent, and modern weapons-grade uranium is categorised as anything above 90 percent.