Khamenei demands ‘action’ from US to revive nuclear deal

TEHERAN • Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to revive Teheran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, challenging new President Joe Biden to take the first step towards a thaw.

Iran has set a deadline of next week for Mr Biden to begin reversing sanctions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump, or it will take its biggest step yet to breach the deal – banning short-notice inspections by the United Nations nuclear watchdog.

“We have heard many nice words and promises which in practice have been broken and opposite actions have been taken,” Mr Khamenei said in a televised speech. “Words and promises are no good. This time (we want) only action from the other side, and we will also act.”

The US on Wednesday urged Teheran to reverse and refrain from taking steps that will harm its pledges under the accord.

Mr Biden aims to restore the pact under which Iran agreed to curbs on its disputed uranium enrichment programme in return for the lifting of sanctions, a major achievement of the Obama administration that Mr Trump scrapped in 2018, calling the deal one sided in Teheran’s favour and reimposing a wide range of sanctions.

Iran and the US are at odds over who should make the first step to revive the accord.

Iran says the US must first lift Mr Trump’s sanctions, while Washington says Teheran must first return to compliance with the deal, which it began violating after Mr Trump launched his “maximum-pressure” campaign.

Highlighting the urgency of a diplomatic solution to the stand-off, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a rare phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in which she urged Teheran to take steps ensuring its return to full compliance.

“It is now time for positive signals that create trust and increase the chances of a diplomatic solution,” Dr Merkel told Mr Rouhani, according to a statement by the chancellor’s spokesman.

Iran has accelerated its breaches of the deal’s restrictions in recent months, culminating in an announcement that it will end snap inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Tuesday.

Such inspections, which can range anywhere beyond Iran’s declared nuclear sites, are mandated under the IAEA’s “additional protocol” that Iran agreed to honour under the deal.

It signed up to the protocol in 2003, but has not ratified it.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a press briefing that Washington was aware of Teheran’s plan to cease snap inspections. “As we and partners have underscored, Iran should reverse these steps and refrain from taking others that would impact the IAEA assurances,” Mr Price said, adding: “The path for diplomacy remains open.”

Meanwhile, top diplomats from European powers and the US were slated to hold talks yesterday to see how to revive the 2015 deal.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was to host his German and British counterparts in Paris, with America’s new top diplomat Antony Blinken joining via videoconference, the French foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Ms Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said it was “unlikely” that the scheduled meeting would produce a significant political or economic gesture to prevent Iran from going ahead with the restrictions.

Separately, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is to travel to Teheran tomorrow for talks with the Iranian authorities to find a solution for continuing inspections in the country, the agency said.

It warned that Teheran’s end to snap IAEA inspections would have “a serious impact on the IAEA’s verification and monitoring activities in the country”.