Iran's Zarif urges Biden to act first in returning US to nuclear deal

Biden "can begin by removing all sanctions imposed since Trump assumed office and seek to re-enter and abide by the 2015 nuclear deal," Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif writes.

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2019.  (photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow, Russia December 30, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)
Iran urged new US President Joe Biden on Friday to "choose a better path" by returning to a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and global powers, but said the opportunity would be lost if Washington insists on further Iranian concessions up front.
Under Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, Washington withdrew from the deal - designed to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon - and bolstered sanctions in a bid to force Tehran into talks on a broader agreement that also addressed its ballistic missile program and support for proxies around the Middle East.
Biden, who took office on Wednesday, "can begin by removing all sanctions imposed since Trump assumed office and seek to re-enter and abide by the 2015 nuclear deal without altering its painstakingly negotiated terms," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine.
"In turn, Iran would reverse all the remedial measures it has taken in the wake of Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal," he said on Friday, adding that the "initiative squarely rests with Washington"
Since Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, Iran has breached its key limits one after the other, building up its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, refining uranium to a higher level of purity and using advanced centrifuges for enrichment.
Biden has said that if Tehran resumed strict compliance with the 2015 agreement Washington would rejoin it.
"But we would use that, as a platform with our allies and partners ..., to seek a longer and stronger agreement and also...to capture these other issues, particularly with regard to missiles and Iran's destabilizing activities," Antony Blinken, Biden's choice for secretary of state, said on Tuesday.
"Having said that, I think we're a long way from there," he said.
Zarif said temporary limitations on Iran's defence and missile procurements under the 2015 deal cannot be re-negotiated. He reiterated that, separate from the nuclear issues, Iran was willing to discuss problems in the Middle East.
In an interview with the reformist Etmad newspaper Zarif said Iran may cooperate with the United States on oil and security in the Gulf, but not on Israel.
“In my personal opinion, we should define our relationship with the United States: To tell the U.S. that ‘we will not cooperate with you on the issue of Israel and we will disagree with you,'” Mohammad Javad Zarif said.
Iran, he said, “will not allow you to interfere in its internal affairs, but we have no problem working with you on the question of oil. We have no problem with ensuring the security of the Persian Gulf, though we believe that foreign presence in the Persian Gulf causes insecurity and you should not be there.”
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Saturday the kingdom was optimistic that it would have "excellent relations" with the new US administrationand that it would continue to talk with Washington regarding the Iran nuclear deal.
"I am optimistic. Saudi Arabia has built solid, historical relations where it worked with different administrations. We will continue to do that as well with President Biden," Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said in an interview with Arabiya TV.
Biden pledged on the election campaign trail to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia, a state he described as a "pariah" in 2019. Biden has said he will take a firmer stand on Saudi’s human rights record and the devastating Yemen war.
Prince Faisal said that Riyadh will continue to consult with Washington with regards to the Iran nuclear deal.
"I believe basically the consultations will be around reaching a solid and strong agreement that takes into account Iran's failure to comply. ..with strong monitoring factors to ensure the implementation of the agreement," Prince Faisal said.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies including the United Arab Emirates, concerned about Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional network of proxies, supported Trump’s maximum pressure campaign on Tehran and welcomed his decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran.
They have said that this time around they should be included in any potential negotiations between the Biden administration and Iran on a new nuclear deal, to ensure it addresses Iran’s missile capabilities and “malign activity”.
The minister reiterated the kingdom's stance that having a peace agreement with Israel is conditional on implementing the Arab Peace Initiative.