Iran lays out "road map" for nuclear talks with Biden
Iran has amassed negotiating chips and set its strategy for engagement with Joe Biden, who arrives in office and promises to return the US to the 2015 nuclear deal if Iran returns to compliance.
Why it matters: Recent statements by Iranian leaders show they are ready to make such a deal. But the sides differ in who has to take the first step and when.
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The big picture: To get back to the deal, Iran would have to pull back on its recent nuclear acceleration and the US would have to lift sanctions. Biden sees this as the basis for negotiating a broader and longer lasting agreement.
Foreign Secretary-designate Tony Blinken reiterated this in his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, but said the new administration was "far from getting back to the deal".
The Iranian presidential election in June will play a major role in each period.
What happens: In anticipation of the negotiations, the Iranians have taken or threatened several steps to build leverage, most notably by producing 20% enriched uranium in a clear breach of the terms of the treaty.
Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the spokesman for the Iranian parliament, said this was done "to generate strength in diplomacy". He added that Europe's direct engagement in this area had shown that the strategy was working.
Iran next announced to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it intended to produce uranium metal that could be used to develop nuclear warheads.
Perhaps most threateningly, in early February the Iranians threatened to restrict inspectors' access to their nuclear facilities.
Moving the News Forward: In a speech on Jan. 8, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated his position, saying Iran does not trust the US and is in no rush.
But he added that Iran will do the same if Biden meets America's commitments.
In the days that followed, a number of senior Iranian officials - all members of a committee overseeing the nuclear deal - reiterated this message in "interviews" posted on Khamenei's official website in what appeared to be an orchestrated demonstration of unity.
The officials were: Qalibaf; Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; Khamenei advisers Ali Larijani and Ali Akbar Velayati; Head of the Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi; former Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi; and former National Security Advisor Saeed Jalili.
What They Say: The officials repeatedly referred to a "roadmap" of steps both sides should take. It starts with the US lifting of sanctions.
Officials said they would treat an announcement from Biden of return to business as meaningless unless accompanied by sanction relief.
“If Mr. Biden signs an executive order, we'll sign one too. Whenever he puts it into practice, we will also put ours into practice, "said Zarif.
Iran wants the sanctions to be lifted in one sweeping action rather than a gradual process. Larijani, a likely leading presidential candidate, said the US would not fool Iran with "a piece of candy".
The top priorities for Iran are lifting sanctions on oil exports and the Iranian banking system and thawing Iranian assets abroad.
"We should be able to conduct our economic business normally and easily - be it imports or exports," said Qalibaf in one of the interviews.
After both sides returned to compliance, Iran said it was ready for further negotiations on a nuclear deal 2.0.
As part of these negotiations, Iran will seek compensation for damage sustained by Trump's withdrawal.
Another condition for future negotiations is the lifting of the snapback mechanism, which enables the US or other contracting parties to quickly renew the UN sanctions against Iran.
According to Zarif, Iran will require the US to take steps to ensure that a new administration doesn't handle the next deal like Trump does the previous one.
What's next? Raz Zektiven, an Iran expert at the Israel Institute for National Security Studies, says the Iranians will not renegotiate the 2015 deal or go back to compliance without sanctions easing.
However, he said they could agree to an interim deal under which the US lifts most sanctions if Iran cuts back most of its nuclear advances since 2019.
"In any case, Khamenei will not compromise on the principles he has set, as that would be like admitting that Trump's policy of maximum pressure works," said Zektiven.
Go Deeper: Biden's Nuclear Dilemma.
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