- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2020

Iran’s top diplomat wagged his finger at the screen as he scolded the United States during a webinar hosted by a prominent American think tank Monday, claiming the Trump administration is violating international law by trying to reimpose sweeping U.N. sanctions on Tehran.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a Council on Foreign Relations virtual event that even if President Trump loses the upcoming U.S. election to Democratic challenger Joseph R. Biden, Iran won’t reenter into nuclear talks with American officials unless there is a dramatic softening of tone and posture toward Iran by Washington.

“The United States first must come clean, must get its act together,” Mr. Zarif asserted, claiming the Trump administration outraged the international community by unilaterally pulling the United States out of the international Iranian nuclear accord two years ago.

The U.S. “must come back to be a lawful member of the international community, start implementing its obligations and then talk about the rest of the deal,” the Iranian foreign minister said, adding that it is “immaterial for us who is in the White House.”

His mention of “the rest of the deal” was a reference to U.S. desires to remove certain, so-called “sunset” clauses from the 2015 accord that would essentially allow Iran to proceed forth in its production of nuclear bombs in the long-run.

Mr. Zarif’s comments Monday came after the Trump administration announced over the weekend that the U.S. has officially triggered a “snapback” provision within the Obama-era accord to reimpose a set of harsh U.N. sanctions on Tehran that had previously been lifted. Under the terms of the original accord, Iran had agreed to curb its nuclear programs in exchange for the lifting of economic and security sanctions.

The Trump administration and some regional analysts argue Iran clearly violated the agreement since it was inked by carrying out ballistic missile tests, supporting terrorism around the Middle East and continuing to enrich atomic material needed for a nuclear bomb.

The administration’s moves in recent days have ratcheted up tensions with Tehran ahead of the U.S. election, although it remains to be seen how the hardened U.S. posture might impact the vote. It’s also unclear how the situation might change depending on a Trump or Biden victory in November.

Mr. Biden was former President Barack Obama’s vice president and his campaign has said that if he wins the election, Mr. Biden will attempt to move quickly to resuscitate the 2015 nuclear deal.

With that as a backdrop, allies and foes alike have rejected the Trump administration’s effort to reimpose global economic sanctions on Iran, setting up a high-stakes showdown at the United Nations, which is holding its annual General Assembly virtually this week.

Other parties to the 2015 nuclear deal, including Russia and China, as well as staunch American allies in Europe, claim the U.S. has no standing to trigger a reimposition of U.N. sanctions on Iran because Mr. Trump withdrew from the nuclear pact in 2018. But U.S. officials say Washington — as an original signatory — still has standing to invoke the so-called sanctions “snapback” provision.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a news conference Monday to call on all U.N. member nations to “fully comply” with implementing the reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Mr. Pompeo — who was joined by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien — also announced fresh U.S. sanctions on Iran’s defense ministry as well as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for conducting business with Iran.

Separately, The Associated Press reported that the head of Iran’s nuclear agency said Monday that the 2015 nuclear deal is struggling since the unilateral American withdrawal, but is still worth preserving.

Ali Akbar Salehi told delegates at a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna that the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, has been “caught in a quasi-stalemate situation” since Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out in 2018.

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