WILMINGTON, Del.—President Biden said the U.S. won’t make the first move to restart negotiations with Tehran over the 2015 nuclear accord, indicating he would only lift sanctions if Iran stops enriching uranium beyond the limits of the nuclear deal.
Mr. Biden made his comments in a CBS News interview. A clip of the interview was released Sunday morning. The full interview will run Sunday afternoon.
Asked by CBS News whether the U.S. will lift sanctions to convince Iran to participate in negotiations, Mr. Biden said, “No.” When CBS asked whether Iran must stop enriching uranium first, Mr. Biden nodded.
The Biden administration has previously said Iran must come into compliance with the 2015 agreement before sanctions will be lifted. “President Biden supports diplomacy to deal with the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, but he certainly isn’t going to offer sanctions relief just to get Iran back to the table, which is what the question suggested,” a White House official said on Sunday.
Before President Biden’s interview, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a speech Sunday reiterated Iran’s stance that it is Washington that must lift sanctions and come back into compliance with the nuclear accord.
“If they want Iran to return to its JCPOA commitments, the U.S. should lift all sanctions in action,” Mr. Khamenei said in remarks published on his website. “Once this is done, we will resume our JCPOA commitments.”
The Biden administration has said it hopes to persuade Iran to rejoin the nuclear agreement after then-President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions lifted under the 2015 deal. But the different stances between Washington and Tehran signal a potentially rocky road ahead.
Over the past 18 months, Iran has responded to President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018 and the reimposition of sanctions on Tehran by gradually violating key provisions of the nuclear deal. In January, Iran said it had restarted enrichment of uranium at 20% purity. A week later, it said it was preparing to produce uranium metal, which is often used in the core of a nuclear weapon.
Iran is also stockpiling more than 10 times as much low-enriched uranium as the nuclear accord allows. The maximum purity of this current stockpile is 4.5%, but if enriched to weapons grade of 90% purity it would be enough material for two weapons, some experts say.
Mr. Khamenei’s remarks echo statements by Iranian officials who in recent weeks have said that Tehran is in no hurry for the U.S. to rejoin the nuclear deal, and that Iran’s first priority is sanctions relief, not the survival of the accord.
President Hassan Rouhani earlier this month said Iran wouldn’t accept any changes to the 2015 nuclear deal, telling the U.S. to “take it or leave it.”
European officials and people familiar with discussions in Washington say there is likely to be a series of carefully sequenced steps leading both sides back to compliance in parallel.
—Laurence Norman contributed to this article.
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