U.S. Must Convince Iran the Trump Experience Won't Be Repeated, Zarif Says

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has said the U.S. must convince Tehran that the conflict and uncertainty of President Donald Trump's term will not be repeated, as the two sides jockey for leverage over the proposed revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.

Iranian leaders and President Joe Biden have said they want to resurrect the deal, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. But officials in Tehran and Washington are both demanding the other side take the first step, as conservatives in both nations organize against the 2015 accord.

Biden told CBS News Sunday that the U.S. would not lift sanctions imposed by Trump since 2018 to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table. Instead, he suggested, Iran would have to scale back its uranium enrichment program in line with the JCPOA's terms.

Tehran began breaking away from compliance with the deal in piecemeal fashion after Trump withdrew. Iran then ended compliance entirely after the U.S. assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020. Trump's withdrawal and subsequent "maximum pressure" campaign, Tehran says, means the U.S. now has the responsibility to resurrect talks.

Zarif told CNN Sunday that the Biden administration needs to be clearer and more decisive in its JCPOA policy. "It's a decision that President Biden and his advisers need to take; whether they want to break with the failed policies of President Trump, or whether they want to build on his failures. If they want to build on his failures, they will only get failure as a result."

Trump may be out of office, but four years of his belligerent Iran strategy has left its mark. Even before the JCPOA was signed, hard-liners in Iran warned that the U.S. could not be trusted to comply. Trump proved them right. His sanctions and military actions against Iran fortified this skepticism, and last year's parliamentary elections handed the conservatives a sweeping victory.

Zarif said Iran will have to be convinced that any future deal will be protected. "The United States must make it clear, and must give guarantees to Iran and other members of the deal that the behavior of President Trump will not be repeated," Zarif said. "Because the international community has suffered enough from the lawlessness of somebody who acts on a whim."

Moderate President Hassan Rouhani—whose government negotiated and signed the JCPOA—has said he is open to returning to the deal, but his term ends this summer. It is likely he will be replaced by a conservative, perhaps even one from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Rouhani has a small window to revive the JCPOA before his time in office ends. And there is no guarantee that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will allow him to do so. Khamenei said this weekend that Iran will not act until sanctions are lifted.

Meanwhile, the conservatives in parliament are watching Rouhani and his team for any sign of weakness—hard-liners may even move to impeach the president if he is deemed too open to U.S. overtures.

Officials on both sides are settling into the nuclear stalemate. Zarif said Monday that Iran is in no rush to rejoin the JCPOA. All the while, Iran's enriched uranium stockpile and enrichment capabilities are growing, much to the concern of American allies in Israel and the Persian Gulf.

"Americans will not get a better agreement and they will waste their time as time goes by," Zarif warned Monday.

Donald Trump waves to supporters in Florida
Outgoing President Donald Trump waves to supporters lined along on the route to his Mar-a-Lago estate on January 20, 2021 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Michael Reaves/Getty Images/Getty