Iran warns election delays could slow nuclear deal moves

BRUSSELS (AP) — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday urged the United States to quickly rejoin the international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, warning that the Islamic Republic’s upcoming elections could stymie progress in any talks.

The Trump administration in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the Iranian nuclear accord, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

When the U.S. then reimposed some sanctions and added others, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.

White House officials have said the new U.S. administration is prepared to return to the deal as soon as Tehran shows “strict compliance” with its terms.

Zarif said that as Iran’s June elections approach, the United States will find itself dealing with a government unable to make progress in the nuclear talks.

“A lame duck government will not be able to do anything serious. And then we will have a waiting period of almost six months. We will not have a government before September,” Zarif said at an online conference with the European Policy Centre think-tank in Brussels.

“A lot of things can happen between now and September. So, it is advisable for the United States to move fast,” Zarif said.

Going into the presidential election, the Iranian public is disenchanted with President Hassan Rouhani and his allies who struck the nuclear accord. Rouhani, a cleric who is a relative moderate in Iran’s theocratic government, is term limited from running again.

In December, Iran’s parliament passed a bill requiring the government to limit its cooperation with U.N. inspectors and push the nuclear program beyond the agreement’s limits. Tehran then began enriching uranium up to 20% purity and other work barred by the deal.

But Iran believes that the U.S., as the country which first reneged on the 2015 agreement, must make the first move, and should not set any preconditions.

“We are ready to go back immediately, after the United States goes back to implementation of the deal. That’s as simple as that,” Zarif said. He rejected renegotiating any parts of the deal, or adjusting the “time-frame” under which Tehran should take certain steps.

“We don’t see any reason for talks; we can go immediately to implementation and then have talks,” Zarif said, adding that he has seen no new proposals from the U.S. yet. “Up until now, this administration has done nothing different from the Trump administration.”

The sanctions imposed on Tehran lock it out of international financial markets and bar the country from selling its crude oil abroad. Iran’s economy has cratered in the meantime as inflation remains unchecked and its currency, the rial, suffers. The coronavirus pandemic has only worsened those woes.

Zarif said that a significant amount of Iranian money is now being held in Iraq.

“We are selling Iraq gas and electricity … but the U.S. doesn’t permit Iraq to give us the money, as if they give us permission to donate to Iraq gas and electricity. And we need that money very badly for corona, for the vaccine, for food and medicine for our people.”

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David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

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