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Blinken: Unclear Whether Iran Will Comply with Nuclear Commitments

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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi in Tehran, May 2021.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday that the lifting of U.S. sanctions imposed under former President Donald Trump’s administration is “a legal and moral obligation,” not something to be used as leverage in negotiations as the two sides consider returning to an agreement involving Iran’s nuclear program.

“Didn’t work for Trump — won’t work for you,” Zarif tweeted.

His comments came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it is not clear whether Iran will comply with restrictions on its nuclear development program in order to have U.S. economic sanctions removed.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington, April 5, 2021.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington, April 5, 2021.

“Iran, I think, knows what it needs to do to come back into compliance on the nuclear side, and what we haven’t yet seen is whether Iran is ready and willing to make a decision to do what it has to do,” Blinken told ABC’s “This Week” show. “That’s the test and we don’t yet have an answer.”

Iran has been in indirect talks with the United States through diplomats from other countries in reshaping the 2015 international nuclear deal to restrain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Then Trump withdrew the United States from the pact in 2018, imposing new sanctions on Iran’s oil, banking and shipping sectors. But U.S. President Joe Biden is looking to rejoin the pact that includes Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

In a separate interview, Blinken told CNN that the United States and Iran have “actually made progress” in the talks in Vienna and a fifth round is scheduled in the coming days.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last week that the United States was ready to lift trade sanctions, although a senior Iranian official later contradicted him. European diplomats said difficult issues remained in the negotiations.

Iran has maintained that for it to return to the deal, the United States must first lift its sanctions, while the U.S. says Iran must first return to compliance with the deal’s terms.

Iran has consistently breached the 2015 pact’s restrictions on uranium enrichment, but Blinken told CNN if both sides can return to the original deal, “then we can use that as a foundation both to look at how to make the deal itself potentially longer and stronger — and also engage on these other issues, whether it’s Iran’s support for terrorism ... its destabilizing support for different proxies throughout the Middle East.”

But he told ABC, “The first thing that we need to do is put the nuclear problem back in the box.”

In Tehran, Iran’s hardline parliament speaker said a temporary deal between Iran and international inspectors to preserve surveillance images taken at nuclear sites had ended.

But the International Atomic Energy Agency said talks with Tehran continued into Sunday night over that agreement.

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