Iran Warns Joe Biden Nuclear Window Is 'Very Limited' as Talk Rumors Swirl

The Iranian government has warned President Joe Biden not to miss the "very limited" window to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, amid reports that the two sides are already renegotiating a return to the accord in secret.

Regime spokesperson Ali Rabiyee told a press conference Tuesday that sanctions relief will be central to any new talks with the Biden Administration. He also denied, as regime figures have repeatedly, that any secret talks had been held with Biden's team, despite media reports to the contrary.

"We have not had any talks or contacts with the new U.S. administration so far, and we are still awaiting the official positions of the U.S. administration to clarify on its return to its JCPOA obligations and on the lifting of the illegal sanctions that are an integral part of these obligations," Rabiyee said, according to the Mehr News Agency.

"There are currently no plans to negotiate with the United States. Any progress in this regard will depend on the practical steps taken by the United States to return to its obligations.

"Of course, the United States will not have time forever, and the opportunity is very limited, not only for the United States but also for the European members of the JCPOA."

Biden wants to revive the JCPOA from which former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018. Trump had long been opposed to the agreement and hoped that his "maximum pressure" campaign of sanctions, covert action, and diplomatic pressure would force Tehran to negotiate a new, more restrictive nuclear deal.

Trump's strategy failed, but four years of bad blood between Tehran and Washington, D.C. has left diplomatic wreckage for Biden to work with.

The Iranian regime—headed by moderate President Hassan Rouhani until his term ends this summer—has also said it is willing to return to compliance with the deal if the U.S. does the same.

Last week, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif denied a Le Figaro report suggesting Iranian United Nations ambassador Majid Takht-Ravanchi had met with members of Biden's incoming team. Israel's Channel 12 News also reported that Biden aides had spoken with Iranian representatives.

Ravanchi again denied contact with the new team on Tuesday. He told NBC News: "No, there has not been any conversation between Iran and the U.S. after Biden came into office...We are not planning to initiate anything."

Iran began moving away from the deal after Trump withdrew, and announced it would no longer adhere to any elements of the agreement after the U.S. assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020.

Iran has since expanded its stock of enriched uranium, which is now also being enriched to 20 percent—a relatively short technical step from 90 percent weapons-grade uranium.

The Iranian parliament—dominated by conservatives after last year's election—also passed legislation late last year blocking international nuclear inspectors from Iranian sites from March onwards.

The legislation was retaliation for the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh near Tehran in November, reportedly by Israeli operatives. Regime figures have blamed both Israel and the U.S. for the killing.

Conservative lawmakers and think tanks—backed by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other anti-Iran American allies in the Middle East—have been mobilizing against Biden's planned revival of the JCPOA.

Biden's top foreign policy aides have said they are keen to liaise with regional allies, but remain committed to the accord.

JCPOA critics are particularly concerned that the deal does not limit Iran's ballistic missile research nor its use of regional proxy militias to advance Tehran's interests. Both were elements in Trump's proposed replacement deal, but Iran has consistently ruled out negotiating on these issues.

Biden plans to use the JCPOA as a basis for a "longer and stronger" additional deal that would cover missiles and other issues. The new president plans to work with the other signatories—Russia, China, France, Germany, and the U.K.—to achieve this, though critics are skeptical Tehran will agree.

Still, rejoining the JCPOA may not be as imminent as its critics fear.

Nominated Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and Press Secretary Jen Psaki have all said that JCPOA revival will only be possible if Iran returns to full compliance with the deal.

At his confirmation hearing last week, Blinken told senators the U.S. is still a "long way" from agreeing a deal with Tehran.

Joe Biden pictured after signing manufacturing EO
President Joe Biden pauses while speaking after signing an executive order related to American manufacturing in the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex on January 25, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/Getty