Iranian President says 'no' to expanding nuclear deal

Hassan Rouhani dismisses calls to go beyond nuclear issue or include regional countries

TEHERAN • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday ruled out changes to the country's nuclear accord with world powers and dismissed calls to broaden the terms of the deal and include regional countries.

United States President Joe Biden has voiced support for returning to the accord, from which Mr Donald Trump exited, but has insisted that Teheran first resume full compliance and consider expanding the deal beyond the nuclear issue.

Iran's regional arch-rival, Saudi Arabia, has also called for a role in any future talks on the agreement.

"No clause of the JCPOA will change. Know this. And no one will be added to the JCPOA," Mr Rouhani said at a televised Cabinet meeting, using the deal's official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"This is the agreement. If they want it, everyone comes into compliance. If they don't, they can go live their lives," he added.

Mr Trump withdrew the US from the deal and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018, maintaining a policy of "maximum pressure" against the Islamic republic.

Iran a year later responded by gradually suspending its compliance with most of its key nuclear commitments in the deal, under which it was promised economic relief for limits on its nuclear programme.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had on Monday asked the European Union to coordinate a synchronised return of both Iran and the US to the deal, following a diplomatic stand-off on who would act first.

Mr Zarif said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell should play a role in his capacity of coordinator of the 2015 agreement, which also included Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China.

But US State Department spokesman Ned Price said it was still too early to accept such a proposal, repeating calls on Teheran to first return to compliance.

The Biden administration had earlier pulled an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf, signalling potentially easing tensions with Iran.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that the USS Nimitz carrier strike group had sailed from the US military's Central Command in the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific Command region. Mr Kirby, a retired rear-admiral, did not confirm reports that the Nimitz was headed back to the US after some nine months at sea.

However, he indicated that, after the Trump administration ramped up US military presence in the Gulf, the Biden administration did not see keeping the carrier there as necessary for US security needs.

He declined to discuss the current Pentagon assessment of an Iranian military threat to US bases or Gulf allies, but said: "We don't make decisions like this lightly."

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin "believes that we have a robust presence in the Middle East to respond" to any threat, Mr Kirby said.

"The secretary was mindful of the larger geo-strategic picture when he approved the movement of the carrier strike group," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2021, with the headline 'Iranian President says 'no' to expanding nuclear deal'. Subscribe