Iran, U.S. Both Vow No Nuclear Concessions Amid Attacks, New Sanctions

Top officials in both Iran and the U.S. have said their nations will not give any concessions in the bid to revive the Iran nuclear deal, as the two sides remain at loggerheads over how to save the accord.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that their proposed pathways to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) revival are clear, and put the onus on the other side to make the next move.

President Joe Biden and Rouhani have both been clear on their desire to return to compliance with the 2015 deal, which placed limits on Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The U.S. left compliance under former President Donald Trump, and subsequently introduced new sanctions on Iran. Tehran began violating the deal after Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA, and has since expanded its nuclear program far beyond what is allowed under the deal.

Iran says it will not scale back its nuclear activity until Biden lifts all Trump-era sanctions. But the White House has said it will not do so until Iran returns to full compliance with all JCPOA terms.

The U.S. has offered talks with the other JCPOA signatories and rescinded United Nations sanctions Trump claimed to have reimposed—the UN Security Council disputed this—but Iran is sticking to its guns.

Meanwhile, attacks by Iran-aligned militias in Iraq, intensified operations by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia, and tensions between Tehran and Israel are all threatening the chance of future talks.

The Biden administration also announced new sanctions on two Iranian officials this week for human rights abuses committed while suppressing protests in 2019.

Zarif said Wednesday that Iran does not trust the U.S. and its Western allies. "It is Iran that is distrustful of the Western countries that have never implemented the nuclear deal properly and correctly," he told reporters in Tehran, according to the state-run Fars News Agency.

"Iran has always fulfilled its undertakings and it is the U.S. that has withdrawn from the nuclear deal," Zarif added.

Rouhani, meanwhile, told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday that "the path is clear," according to the Tasnim News Agency. "It's the lifting of sanctions and the U.S. fulfilling of its commitments, and there is no other option," the president said.

Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday there would be no more American concessions in pursuit of a deal with Iran. Tehran reached a deal with South Korea this week to unfreeze billions of dollars held in Korea banks, but Blinken said the money will not be released until Tehran returns to full JCPOA compliance.

"If Iran comes back into compliance with its obligations under the nuclear agreement, we would do the same thing," Blinken said when asked about the money. "That would involve—if it came to that, if Iran made good on its obligations—sanctions relief pursuant to the agreement."

Asked about a potential meeting, Blinken noted Iran's refusal to attend talks. ""We said we would attend. Iran so far has said no. I think the ball is in their court to see if they're serious about engaging or not," Blinken said.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said this week that American patience is not "unlimited," again stressing that the U.S. is committed to a diplomatic solution to the nuclear stand off.

Antony Blinken speaks on Capitol Hill
Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill, March 10, 2021 in Washington, D.C. KEN CEDENO/AFP via Getty Images