Iran Says Joe Biden's Nuclear Deal Moves Aren't Enough, Demands Full Sanctions Relief

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has said President Joe Biden's move to rescind United Nations sanctions on Tehran imposed by his predecessor is not enough to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of action nuclear deal.

Biden faced immediate backlash from JCPOA critics in the U.S. and abroad after his administration announced that the U.S. is now ready to meet with the deal's other signatories with a view to resurrecting the accord, which has been stuck in the doldrums since President Donald Trump ended U.S. compliance in 2018.

Biden rescinded the UN sanctions the Trump administration claimed to have reimposed on Iran via a JCPOA "snapback" mechanism. The UN Security Council and other JCPOA signatories always denied the move had any validity.

Biden's move to rescind the supposed sanctions was described by State Department officials as a signal to U.S. allies that the new administration was ditching the unilateralism of the Trump era.

Thursday's announcements are the clearest signal from the new president since he took office that he will pursue JCPOA revival. So far, the U.S. and Iran have been stuck in a negotiating stalemate.

The White House wants Iran to scale back its nuclear program in line with the JCPOA before any Trump-era sanctions are lifted. But Tehran says it will not curb its activity before it is given sanctions relief.

The Iranian government, led by moderate President Hassan Rouhani, has been advocating for a return to the JCPOA since Trump's withdrawal. But despite the positive signs from Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Zarif wrote on Twitter that Biden must still do more.

Zarif said Biden had acknowledged that Trump's UN sanctions claim "had no legal validity," adding: "We agree."

Zarif said in his tweet: "US unconditionally & effectively lift all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labeled by Trump. We will then immediately reverse all remedial measures," he said, referring to Iran's expansion of its nuclear activity in recent years.

A State Department official told reporters on Thursday that the sanctions step does not have much practical impact given no other Security Council members supported the Trump administration's claim to have reimposed the measures.

"No other member of the UN Security Council agreed that the previously terminated provisions of prior resolutions had snapped back last September, despite the prior administration's position," the official said.

"So that essentially isolated the United States on the Security Council and in the UN system and weakened our ability to work with our allies and partners on the Security Council to address Iran's destabilizing activity."

"So by reversing this position, it basically puts us back in good stead with our allies and partners and strengthens our ability to engage other Security Council members on Iran," the official explained.

Iran began violating the JCPOA piecemeal after Trump's withdrawal from the deal and began reimposing sanctions on the country. Tehran broke with the accord entirely after the U.S. assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020.

The Iranian parliament ordered a further expansion of nuclear activity after the assassination of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh—reportedly by Israeli operatives—outside Tehran in November. Lawmakers ordered the country's atomic energy to increase uranium enrichment and to block international inspectors from Iranian nuclear sites from 21 February unless U.S. sanctions were lifted.

Rouhani's government is pushing for sanctions relief and JCPOA revival while battling domestic opposition from conservatives skeptical of re-engagement with the U.S.

Conservatives swept last year's parliamentary elections, and Rouhani is likely to be replaced with a hard liner candidate—possibly even one from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—when his term ends this summer.

Rouhani on Thursday urged Biden to return to the JCPOA and lift all of Trump's sanctions. "Surrendering to law is not a fault," he told reporters. "Do not shy away. What is bad is surrendering to force."

Joe Biden meets labor leaders in Oval
President Joe Biden meets with labor union leaders in the Oval Office of the White House on February 17, 2021 in Washington, D.C. His administration said on Thursday that it was ready to meet with JCPOA signatories and rescinded the previous administration's bid to reimpose United Nations sanctions on Tehran. Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images/Getty