Iran’s foreign minister Friday threw the ball back into the US president’s court on reaching a new nuclear agreement, after the two countries carried out a prisoner swap.
President Donald Trump had voiced hope for progress with Iran a day earlier, after the Islamic republic released a US Navy veteran and the United States freed two Iranians.
US-Iran nuclear deal
“Thank you to Iran, it shows a deal is possible!” Trump had tweeted.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Trump on Twitter Friday, saying, “We achieved humanitarian swap despite your subordinates’ efforts”.
“And we had a deal when you entered office. Iran & other JCPOA participants never left the table,” he said, using an acronym for a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
The multilateral accord, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, gave the Islamic republic relief from international sanctions in return for limits on its nuclear programme.
Iran has now accumulated enriched uranium at nearly eight times the limit of a 2015 deal and has for months blocked inspections at sites where historic nuclear activity may have occurred, the UN watchdog said Friday. This is a bad premonition for the future of the Iran Nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as Iran continues to defy the sanctions imposed by the United States, and is driving its erstwhile supporters (the remaining Western Nations) to within an inch of their patience.
Read more: Iran denied IAEA inspection
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) noted “with serious concern that, for over four months, Iran has denied access to the Agency… to two locations,” according to an IAEA report seen by AFP.
The report said the IAEA has questions as to the possible “use or storage of nuclear material” at the two sites and that one of them “may have been used for the processing and conversion of uranium ore including fluorination in 2003”.
US sanctions on Iran
Tensions between Tehran and Washington escalated in 2018 after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.
The Treasury sanctioned 15 individuals and five companies, accusing them of supporting and acting “on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force,” considered by Washington to be a terrorist organisation.
Three construction companies, a petrochemical firm, and a religious organisation are included on the list.
However, UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called for the easing of these penalties, given the ongoing pandemic.
“It is vital to avoid the collapse of any country’s medical system – given the explosive impact that will have on death, suffering and wider contagion,” Bachelet said in a statement. “In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us.”
Trump administration pushing for US-Iran nuclear deal
The other partners to the accord are Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
“Your advisors — most fired by now — made a dumb bet. Up to you to decide when you want to fix it,” Zarif added.
We achieved humanitarian swap *despite* your subordinates' efforts, @realDonaldTrump
And we had a deal when you entered office. Iran & other JCPOA participants never left the table.
Your advisors—most fired by now—made a dumb bet.
Up to you to decide *when* you want to fix it. pic.twitter.com/TFg698pWS9
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 5, 2020
Brian Hook, the US pointman on Iran policy, said that the Trump administration has tried unsuccessfully to expand the conversation with Tehran beyond consular matters.
“I think one of the obvious dimensions of doing a consular dialogue with the regime is the opportunity to discuss other issues,” Hook told reporters in Washington.
“The regime has not taken us up on this opportunity now. It’s unfortunate,” he said, adding: “The door remains open.”
“We do think that every successfully concluded diplomatic engagement does build confidence.”
The Trump administration says it wants a new deal with Iran but has taken a maximalist approach in its demands, including seeking an end to Tehran’s regional activities.
In January, Trump ordered a drone strike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian general.
Prisoners freed on either side
Hook went to Zurich to bring back US Navy veteran Michael White, who had been arrested in Iran’s northeastern city of Mashhad in July 2018.
I just got off the phone with former American hostage Michael White, who is now in Zurich after being released from Iran. He will be on a U.S. plane shortly, and is COMING HOME…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020
As he was flying home Thursday, a US federal judge issued an order to free an Iranian-American doctor, Majid Taheri.
A day earlier, a prominent Iranian scientist arrested in 2016 on an academic visit to the United States returned to Iran.
Three more US citizens are known to be imprisoned in Iran. All three are of Iranian origin, so Tehran considers them its own citizens.
“I think the regime probably looks at dual citizens differently than we do. But it’s the same level of effort that’s applied to all of them,” Hook said.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk