UPDATE 4-Iran reacts coolly to U.S. talk offer, demands lifting of sanctions

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Parisa Hafezi
·4 min read
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* Iran considering US offer to talk about deal's revival

* Washington must return to the deal, senior official says

* Then a way to 'synchronise steps' can be agreed, he says

* 'Give diplomacy a chance', says Iranian official(Adds Iranian official's quote, detail)

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Iran will "immediately reverse"actions in its nuclear programme once U.S. sanctions are lifted,its foreign minister said on Friday, reacting coolly toWashington's initial offer to revive talks with Tehran aimed atrestoring the 2015 nuclear deal.

President Joe Biden's administration said on Thursday it wasready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to theaccord, which aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclearweapons while lifting most international sanctions. FormerPresident Donald Trump left the accord in 2018 and reimposedsanctions on Iran.

Tehran said Washington's move was not enough to persuadeIran to fully respect the accord.

When sanctions are lifted, "we will then immediately reverseall remedial measures. Simple," Foreign Minister Mohammad JavadZarif said on Twitter.

Since Trump ditched the deal, Tehran has breached the accordby rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching itto higher levels of fissile purity and installing advancedcentrifuges to speed up production.

Tehran and Washington have been at odds over who should makethe first step to revive the accord. Iran says the United Statesmust first lift Trump’s sanctions while Washington says Tehranmust first return to compliance with the deal.

However, a senior Iranian official told Reuters that Tehranwas considering Washington's offer to talk about the revival ofthe deal.

"But first they should return to the deal. Then within theframework of the 2015 deal, a mechanism to basically synchronisesteps can be discussed," the official said. "We have neversought nuclear weapons and this is not part of our defencedoctrine," the Iranian official said. "Our message is veryclear. Lift all the sanctions and give diplomacy a chance."

The European Union is working on organising an informalmeeting with all participants of the Iran deal and the UnitedStates, which has already signalled willingness to join anygathering, a senior EU official said on Friday.

Adding to pressure for a resolution to the impasse, a lawpassed by the hardline parliament obliges Tehran on Feb. 23 tocancel the sweeping access given to U.N. inspectors under thedeal, limiting their visits to declared nuclear sites only.

The United States and the European parties to the accordhave urged Iran to refrain from taking the step, which willcomplicate Biden's efforts to restore the pact.

POLITICAL INFIGHTING

"We have to implement the law. The other party must actquickly and lift these unjust and illegal sanctions if they wantTehran to honour the deal," said the Iranian official.

The IAEA's short-notice inspections, which can rangeanywhere beyond Iran’s declared nuclear sites, are mandatedunder the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol” that Iran agreed tohonour under the deal.

While Iran's demand for a lifting of all U.S. sanctions isunlikely to be met anytime soon, analysts said, Tehran faces adelicate choice about how to respond to Biden's overture with anupcoming presidential election in June.

With growing discontent at home over economic hardship, theelection turnout is seen as a referendum on the clericalestablishment -- a potential risk for Iran's rulers. Hardliners,set to win the vote and tighten their grip, have been pushing tosqueeze more concessions from Washington for reviving the deal.

Iran’s fragile economy, weakened by U.S. sanctions andcoronavirus crisis, has left the ruling elite with few options.

"Hardliners are not against dealing with Washington. Buttheir tactic is to stall any engagement to get more concessionsuntil a hardline president is at the office," said a seniorgovernment official.

Some Iranian hardliners said top authority Supreme LeaderAyatollah Ali Khamenei's tough stance had forced Washington tocave in. On Wednesday he demanded “action, not words” from theUnited States if it wants to restore the deal.

"They have reversed some measures ... It is a defeat forAmerica ... but we are waiting to see whether there will beaction on lifting sanctions," state media quoted Tabriz city'sFriday prayer leader Mohammadali Ale-Hashem as saying.

Biden has said that he will use the revival of the nucleardeal as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrictIran’s ballistic missile development and regional activities.

Tehran has ruled out negotiations on wider security issuessuch as Iran’s missile programme.(Writing by Parisa HafeziEditing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)