Iran Sets Its Red Lines in Tussle With U.S. With Election Underway
An Iranian national flag flies from a flagpole in a residential district of Tehran, Iran. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Iran Sets Its Red Lines in Tussle With U.S. With Election Underway

Iran is laying out red lines in its tussle with the U.S. as Americans elect their president, pointing to a period of high-stakes diplomacy should Donald Trump be defeated.

Parliament on Monday agreed to fast-track legislation that would end intrusive nuclear inspections by international monitors if U.S. oil and banking sanctions aren’t lifted within three months of the bill’s approval.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif followed a day later with warnings that Iran wouldn’t budge on its basic demands.

Zarif, who was headed to Venezuela for talks with another government in U.S. crosshairs, said Tuesday Iran would “never renegotiate” the provisions of the 2015 nuclear deal regardless of whether Trump or his Democratic challenger Joe Biden wins the election.

Trump pulled out of the accord two years ago and has since imposed sweeping economic sanctions to try to force Iran to accept a tougher deal that also limits its missile program and ambitions in the Middle East.

If he wins, Biden “will be under pressure to make renewing the Iran nuclear deal an absolute priority of his administration for fear that if he doesn’t, the Iranians will radically harden their position,” Anatol Lieven, professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, told Bloomberg TV.

“Some of Biden’s advisers were talking about maybe renegotiating a better deal,” he said. Tehran is “trying to make sure that a Biden administration will not do that.”

The legislation before parliament, which is dominated by hardline conservatives opposed to closer ties with the U.S., would also revive the mothballed core of a contentious reactor and increase Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, which could then be purified to weapons-grade material at short notice.

The proposals aren’t final and may need approval from the powerful Guardian Council, which vets legislation.

Under the multiparty pact struck five years ago, Iran signed up to the Additional Protocol, which allows United Nations inspectors more intrusive access to nuclear sites.

It has stuck by that commitment even while abandoning others that limited enrichment constraints to protest the return U.S. sanctions.

In September, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 4.5% had tripled to 2,105.4 kilograms, in breach of the deal and enough to create three bombs if Iran chose to purify the material to weapons-grade.

Iran, which denies it ever pursued nuclear weapons research, has repeatedly said that it would immediately return to full compliance with the nuclear deal if the U.S. first agrees to lift its sanctions and also returns to the original terms of the accord.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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