Iran Says Biden Will Be Forced to 'Succumb' to Pressure and Lift Sanctions

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani continued Tehran's stubborn, combative rhetoric regarding President-Elect Joe Biden on Thursday, vowing that the incoming American administration will be forced to make concessions if it wants to revive the beleaguered nuclear deal.

Rouhani said Thursday while inaugurating transportation and urban development projects that Iran would seek to nullify American sanctions on Tehran—as ordered by Ayatollah Ali Khamanei on Wednesday—which have intensified since President Donald Trump lost November's election.

Iranian leaders have met the sanctions—plus the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November—with aggressive rhetoric and expanded nuclear activities. Though Tehran is grappling with an economic crisis, the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest, regime leaders are maneuvering for leverage with the incoming Biden team.

"I have no doubt that the three-year resistance of the Iranian nation will force the future U.S. administration to succumb to the people and return to their commitments and break the sanctions," Rouhani said, according to the Mehr News Agency.

Trump tried and failed to force Iran back to the negotiating table to agree a new, more restrictive version of the President Barack Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which lifted international sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.

Instead, sanctions and military actions have pushed Iran away from the JCPOA. Tehran now has an enriched uranium stockpile 12 times that allowed under the deal, and has moved to block international inspections, expand its stockpile further and enrich uranium up to 20 percent—a relatively short technical step from weapons-grade 90 percent enriched uranium.

Iran has also more than tripled the budget for the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, formerly headed by Fakhrizadeh and responsible for military nuclear research.

These steps will all make life more difficult for Biden, who has been open about his wish to revive the JCPOA, which was considered a major foreign policy achievement by the Obama administration in which he served as vice president.

Rouhani said that Iran would try to nullify sanctions while also looking for opportunities to have them lifted, something Iran is desperately in need of despite the stubborn public rhetoric of its leaders.

"Our first task is to try to make sanctions ineffective or less effective," Rouhani said, adding, "We are trying to remove the sanctions, and as the leader said yesterday, this should not be delayed even for an hour," referring to Khamenei's Wednesday remarks.

Also on Wednesday, Rouhani said that while Tehran is "not excited" by the prospect of Biden's administration, though added the regime was glad that Trump—who he called a "terrorist"—was leaving office.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director Rafael Mariano Grossi told CBS News on Wednesday that Trump had increased the risk of nuclear crisis by withdrawing from the JCPOA in 2018, a step opposed by all major U.S. allies apart from Israel.

"From that moment, Iran, as a response to this, decided to gradually start diminishing its compliance" with the deal, Grossi said, before urging the incoming administration to revive dialogue with Tehran.

Iran's continued human rights abuses and support for regional proxy militias targeting American interests and allies will also be hurdles. Still, the president-elect and his top foreign policy aides have been clear in their belief that reviving the JCPOA is a key step in addressing other grievances with Tehran's behavior.

Sanctions relief is a tantalizing reward for Iran, which has been cut off from global financial markets, seen its vital oil exports dwindle, and struggled to import vital goods and medical supplies. This has been especially punishing as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the country.

For all the tit-for-tat escalations, Iranian leaders have encouraged JCPOA talks. But they have made it clear they expect full U.S. compliance with the original deal and will not consider any limits on their ballistic missile program or regional activities; two key U.S. grievances.

Even more hard line officials have not ruled out negotiations, significant as Rouhani is expected to be replaced by a more conservative president—perhaps even one from the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—when his term ends in June

IRGC Brigadier General Rasol Sanaei Rad, who works in Khamenei's office, for example said in an interview published Thursday that talks are an option, though stressed that Tehran needs to ensure it has leverage in future negotiations.

Joe Biden speaks in from of Buttgieg
President-Elect Joe Biden speaks while nominating former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his secretary of transportation at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 16. KEVIN LAMARQUE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images/Getty