Iran on What’s Next with Biden

Top Iranian officials have outlined the prospects of new diplomacy with Joe Biden. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, has known Biden for decades. He expressed optimism about both countries returning to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed skepticism about trusting the United States after the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018. The following are comments by members of the executive and legislative branches of government.


Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

In an interview with on Jan. 12, 2021

ZarifZarif: “After the Americans withdrew from the JCPOA, they restored previous sanctions and also intensified sanctions under new names and titles. Therefore, the mere return of the U.S. to the JCPOA will not suffice. … Instead of saying that it will enforce the terms in the JCPOA precisely, the U.S. should lift the sanctions.”

“Practical steps include the normalization of Iran’s economic relations with the world. This means a resolution to all the measures that the U.S. has adopted that have caused Iran’s economic relations to become limited in scope. We have nothing to do with the U.S.

“However, if we want to enter into the details, they should remove the restrictions imposed on the sale of our oil. There are customers for Iran’s oil, but the Americans have prevented customers from buying Iran’s oil with their methods that involve aggression and pressure. Well, this should be stopped as well. Our banking relations should return to their previous state. The contracts that we had with various companies should be respected. Our banking branches should be restored to their previous state. They should also eliminate the problems they have caused for our transportation and insurance systems.

“In other words, that which exists in the second part of the JCPOA stresses the results from the actions taken. Mr. Biden is not just obliged to sign a document. The signature is necessary, but it is only one of the necessary conditions. The main condition is that we must see the results from the US actions. This has been stressed in the JCPOA, and also in the documents concerning the commitments of the EU and the US. What we have been telling the Europeans over the past four years is that although they have signed certain agreements and have lifted certain sanctions, the people of Iran have not seen any result. What the people of Iran see at the present time is that some European companies have left the country. These are the results that we are talking about.

“As for the issue of compensation, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution has said in his meetings with us and also in his public speeches that the issue of compensations is one that should be discussed in subsequent stages. It must truly become clear that the JCPOA is not a revolving door that you can enter from one side and exit from the other. After all, there are certain regulations for international relations. US actions have caused the people of Iran to sustain losses. Therefore, in later phases one of the issues that we will definitely bring up is the abuses they may try to do again, and so we will want to prevent such measures from being adopted by the US again. We should not forget that 50 Chinese companies were sanctioned by Mr. Trump over the past four years and our partners sustained losses as well. These losses should also be compensated for.”

“As I announced earlier, the public and private statements of the Leader of the Revolution are the same. He had said the same thing to us before. On the basis of his guidelines, we implemented the policy of “Manifesto for manifesto, signature for signature and action for action.” If they wish to return to the JCPOA and if they fulfill their commitments, we will fulfill ours as well. If Mr. Biden signs an executive order, we will sign one too. Whenever he puts it into action, we will put ours into action as well. These are stages that have become completely clarified, and they are not just orders. It is the US which has withdrawn from the agreement and must fulfill its commitments. As the Leader of the Revolution stated, return to the JCPOA is not the main issue. Rather, the main issue is fulfilling commitments.

Question: “If the two sides of the JCPOA wish to introduce new terms for lifting sanctions, what will our position be?”

Zarif: “They have no right whatsoever to do so. First of all, the JCPOA basically dealt with the nuclear issue in Iran, and it had nothing to do with missiles. Even if the United Nations Security Council resolution has mentioned missiles, it means missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. When Iran does not have nuclear weapons, then missiles equipped with nuclear warheads does not make sense either. Therefore, such terms are irrelevant. Besides, this is one of our red lines. Secondly, when the other side of the JCPOA sold weapons worth over 100 billion dollars to regional countries, they are not in a position to ask us to give up our weapons of defense. When they brought up this issue, we told them that missiles had nothing to do with the JCPOA. We also asked them, “Are you ready to stop selling your weapons to regional countries? Are regional countries ready to bring their military spending to the same level as Iran’s?”

“The Americans have a proverb that says, ‘What is mine is mine, but what is yours can be negotiated.’ If they are applying this to others, they should come to realize that they will never be able to apply this to Iran, which is the oldest nation in the world.”


In remarks at the Rome Mediterranean Dialogues conference on Dec. 3, 2020

“We will not renegotiate a deal which we negotiated. The deal was about give and take. It wasn't about one side asking and the other side giving.... It will never be renegotiated, period, because that's a sign, a clear case of bad faith. If you want to negotiate something, and if you didn't get anything you wanted, you would want to renegotiate.” 

“The United States must implement, without precondition, its obligations under the JCPOA as required by Security Council Resolution 2231. It doesn't have to be a member of JCPOA to implement obligations under Article 25 of the charter as a member of the United Nations, let alone a permanent member of the Security Council.

“Then Iran, once the United States to implement its obligations because we were not the country that withdrew. It is the United States that withdrew. It has to show its good faith. It has to show its bona fides. We have proven in our bona fides in 15 consecutive reports of the IAEA, including five that were issued after President Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA. So, our bona fides are very clear. The United States needs to reestablish its bona fides. It never established it. It needs to even establish its bona fides for the first time. And then Iran will go back to full compliance.”

“The JCPOA or any international agreement is not a revolving door. It's not that you can come in, impose restrictions on others, benefit from the privileges of membership, and then all of a sudden decide to leave and inflict $250 billion of damage on the Iranian people.”


Interview with news website Entekhab on Nov. 30, 2020

“The relationship between an Iranian agent and an American senator is not a friendly one and can be described as a work-related one.”

“These relations cannot even be called personal and good; rather, they can be described as professional relations based on mutual respect.”

“When I was Iran’s representative to the U.N., I had several meetings with Biden at a specialized level. Biden surely has a different view toward foreign policy from that of Trump.” 

“Biden has had a role in the United States’ foreign policy arena since 1970 and is more familiar with foreign policy than Trump is, but this does not mean that his stances are acceptable. We should note that Biden’s positions reflect the U.S. government’s approach anyway.”

“The U.S. government will definitely have fundamental problems with the Islamic Republic of Iran during the Biden administration as did Obama. During Obama’s presidency, relations between Tehran and Washington were not friendly, either, and there were differences to some extent; however, part of unnecessary tensions between the two sides had subsided. But during Trump’s presidency, tensions between Iran and the U.S. were at their highest in 40 years. It seems there is no need for this trend to continue.”


Tweet from Nov. 18, 2020


Interview with government daily Iran on Nov. 17, 2020

“If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill U.S. commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord... and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5+1 (six world powers in the accord).”

“We are ready to discuss how the United States can re-enter the accord.” 

“The situation will improve in the next few months. Biden can lift all sanctions with three executive orders.”

“This can be done automatically, and with no need to set conditions: the United States carries out its duties under (Security Council Resolution) 2231 (lift sanctions) and we will carry out our commitments under the nuclear deal.”


President Hassan Rouhani

Cabinet meeting on Jan. 6, 2020

“If Biden says that the United States wants to obey the law and fulfil its obligations, our answer is clear and simple and we say that if you fulfil all your obligations, we will fulfil all our obligations as well.”

“If you do not do so, we will not bow down to you. If you do fulfill your obligations, we don't owe you anything. You used to do something illegal, now you have stopped doing something illegal, you have regretted and realized that you were wrong.”


Press conference on Dec. 14, 2020

“We will not accept any pre-conditions from anybody. Neither is the JCPOA negotiable, nor can we set it out on the negotiation table and discuss it part by part.”

“Either everyone will implement the JCPOA as it is or they don’t. If they do, we will too.”

“Joe Biden has stated that he would like to return to the nuclear deal, but this time they are looking for a stronger agreement that would include the missile program and Iran’s regional influence.” 

“The other issues you mentioned like missile and regional issues have nothing to do the nuclear issue. The U.S. tried for months to include the missile program, and we told them it’s non-negotiable. They tried for months to include regional issues as well. They were all discussed and rejected.”

“I believe that the era of the economic war has come to an end. This war cannot go on, not because Trump has been defeated and Mr. Biden has won. Even if Trump had won, he would have been forced to do away with sanctions.”

Cabinet meeting on Nov. 8, 2020

“Now is the time for the next administration of the United States to make up for past mistakes and return to the path of adherence to international obligations and respecting global regulations.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has always adhered to its obligations if all other parties do so in a responsible manner, and we consider constructive interaction with the world as our strategy.”


Cabinet meeting on Nov. 11, 2020

“We have not cut ties with the United States, it is them who cut ties and started hostilities with Iran, they must change their policy themselves.”

“A person whose term is coming to an end considered JCPOA to be the worst deal in history and they encouraged him to get out of it with the childish and delusional idea that he could overthrow Iran in two or three months, and those who have been newly elected have announced that they want to return to the deal. Iran and the P4+1 have been in the deal from the beginning, and it is up to them; if they live up to their obligations, they can choose a new path.”


Cabinet meeting on Nov. 18, 2020

“The new government in America will return to the conditions (of the JCPOA) as they complied before. Of course, the previous governments did not follow all the rules. But this last one was a rebel. So they will return to those conditions. And those conditions can turn the tide. That is, we are gradually moving from the space of threat to the space of opportunity.” 

Speech on Nov. 25, 2020

“We hope that the next administration will explicitly condemns Trump's policies against Iran and make up for its anti-human rights and terrorist acts, the wrong policies pursued by the previous government over the past four years in its first steps.” 

“The policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as it has repeatedly emphasized, is commitment for commitment, action for action, reduction of tension for reduction of tension, respect for respect and international commitments for international commitments. If there is such a will in the coming American administration, I think it is very easy to settle the problems.”

“Iran and the United States can both decide and announce that they will return to the terms of January 20, 2017, and this can be a great solution to many issues and problems, and completely change the course and conditions, and then we can continue taking the next steps on different issues.”

Cabinet meeting on Dec. 9, 2020

President Trump “scribbled on a piece of paper" to withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal in May 2018. 

““The next person can put up a nice piece of paper and sign it and it just needs a signature, we’ll be back where we were. It takes no time and needs no negotiations.”  

“And it’s not just about the U.S. The P4+1 can return to all their commitments and we will do the same.” 

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

Remarks on Dec. 16, 2020

“Don’t trust the enemy. We saw what the U.S. did under (President Donald) Trump and under (President Barack) Obama against Iran. The hostility (against Iran) is not just from Trump’s America, which will not end when he leaves, as Obama’s America also did bad things to the Iranian nation. The three European countries (Britain, France and Germany) have displayed utter malice and duplicity too.”

“Lifting sanctions is in the enemy's hands. Nullifying them is in ours. We should work more on nullifying than removing them. I am not saying that we shouldn't pursue removing sanctions. But sanctions that were supposed to be lifted according to the JCPOA, four years ago, have intensified.”

Address on Nov. 24, 2020

“We tried the first path for ending the sanctions. We negotiated for several years, but it did not work. The second path is to overcome the sanctions. The second path, overcoming the sanctions, is the one that can work. Of course, there are certain obstacles and hardships for doing so, but it will have a desirable end.” 

“Regardless of whether we actually receive help from the outside or not, we should assume that no assistance will come from the outside. We should work and plan with this attitude. Those on whom certain people have pinned their hopes are showing enmity towards us. As for the US, it is not clear in what situation America is in – “In such times, everyone is thinking about themselves” [from a poem by Asefi Heravi]. Their problems do not allow them to express their viewpoints about international matters. They are not in a position to say something upon which one can count.” 


U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi

Statement to the U.N. Security Council on Dec. 22, 2020

“As has been clearly stated by our officials, as soon as all JCPOA participants start implementing their commitments unconditionally, effectively and in full, Iran will also resume implementing all its JCPOA commitments.

“This has always been our principled position throughout the recent years and now it has become a binding legal obligation for the Government following the recent adoption of a new law by our Parliament.

“The JCPOA cannot be linked to any other issues as the agenda of the nuclear talks from the beginning was the nuclear issue. We decided not to allow other issues to complicate the already difficult negotiations. That was a very wise decision made by all JCPOA participants. Therefore, any attempt now to link the future of JCPOA to extraneous issues will doom to fail. 

“We have on numerous occasions made our position on the defensive capabilities of our country quite clear. To develop a conventional missile program is an inherent right of any country under international law and Iran is no exception. Consequently, Iran will not negotiate its legitimate ballistic missile program.

“Living in such a volatile region as the Middle East, we will not allow our security and conventional defensive capability be compromised, restricted or undermined. Bullying policies of certain powers will not intimidate Iran to relinquish its legitimate defensive means.”


Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi

Interview with Entekhab News published on Dec. 21, 2020

“What has been said so far by Biden and his advisors indicates that they want to return [to the JCPOA]. If they want to return, we will welcome that, of course, if it is without any precondition.” 

“The latest remarks I have heard from Biden’s advisor, [including his pick for National Security Advisor, Jake] Sullivan and others indicate that, for the time being, they are willing to return [to the JCPOA]... The Islamic Republic has announced unequivocally that we accept no conditions for the return of the United States to the JCPOA. This is out of the question. Now we must wait and see whether they live up to what they say or not.”


Advisor to the Supreme Leader on International Affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati

In an interview with on Jan. 13, 2021

“The Americans proposed that if we limit our peaceful nuclear activities, they will remove sanctions. We did this within the deadline that had been specified and which we had promised the P5+1. But in response, the Americans temporarily removed only some of the sanctions and extended their removal in short time intervals. I mean that from the very beginning they intended to remove them only temporarily. When the next government came to power in America, it was not committed to this obligation at all. No matter what government is in power in America, if it makes a commitment, then that commitment is obligatory for subsequent governments also. We fulfilled our commitments, but they did not. Naturally if they want to return to the JCPOA, they must remove sanctions as they had promised to do.

“In obedience to America, three other western countries - France, Germany and England, which represent the European Union - also imposed many limitations on us. In a way it may be said that they imposed indirect sanctions. However, out of the P5+1, Russia and China helped us as much as they could and fulfilled their commitments. When the Americans have such a bad record in fulfilling their commitments, we have the right to distrust them. If they do return and want to restart negotiations while they have not yet fulfilled their previous commitments, this is not acceptable at all. In addition, we have already experienced losses, and they should recompense us for those losses.

“We are not going to insist on America’s return [to the JCPOA], and we are in no rush. But if they do want to return, then there are some preconditions. The most important one is the removal of sanctions for us to be ensured that the new government is committed to the American obligations under the JCPOA. That is to say, they should announce this commitment and the American president should also make a commitment. Obama, the president of the U.S. at that time, was initially supposed to make a commitment. The precondition set by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution was that the American president makes a written commitment that he could not deny later on. Although they said an oral commitment is enough, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution did not consent to this. Unfortunately, an oral commitment was only made, which they did not fulfill later on. The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution did not even accept the snapback mechanism [for sanctions], and it was done against his will. This mechanism must definitely be put aside as it is an illogical principle if there are going to be any subsequent negotiations.

“What is worth noting in this respect is that we are in need of scientific development and nuclear medicine, and this requires 20 percent enriched uranium. Our nuclear scientists were able to judiciously and efficiently produce 20 percent enriched uranium, which is needed for diagnostic and therapeutic activities in medicine. This measure adopted by the Parliament, and the government was very important and absolutely legal. We did not make any commitment not to engage in activities that have to do with peaceful, medical, nuclear applications. Therefore, this was a very good step and showed that whenever Iran decides to produce highly enriched uranium, it can easily do so.

“Any government that is a member of the NPT has the right to benefit from peaceful nuclear sciences. The nuclear industry, as a parent industry, is related to about 500 industrial and scientific fields. No country can deprive itself of peaceful nuclear energy in the current age. Fossil fuels will finish sooner or later, and we need to use nuclear sciences for producing electricity and energy and for advancing industrial and scientific endeavors. If the Islamic Republic is not self-sufficient in this respect, it will come under the pressure of those who have nuclear energy. Iran will not consent to this since this is in conflict with its independence.

“Others showed that they are not committed to their obligations. Therefore, we surely need to benefit from peaceful nuclear sciences. However, with the commitments we have made under the JCPOA, our activities will be limited for a short period of time. But from 2025 onwards, these limitations will be removed. Due to the commitment that we have both religiously and internationally, as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution pointed out, using nuclear weapons is prohibited. Other than this exception, any other application (other than nuclear weapons) is permissible and necessary for us, and we will use this with God’s grace. We will never separate ourselves from the nuclear industry, and we will never deprive ourselves of it.

“Therefore, we will take the required measures with regard to the future of our country in the way that is good for the nation and as required by our country’s interests. This will be done in the framework of international laws and national requirements. And without a doubt, we will not accept the impositions of the Americans or the non-Americans. In fact, the most important feature of the Revolution was its saving us from dependence. With the Iranian Islamic Revolution, the hands of the Domineering Powers were cut off for all purposes and Iran was emancipated. If we accept that others determine what our interests are or make decisions on our behalf, it means that we have lost the independence our people have strived for decades to gain. We will surely not do that which is in conflict with our independence.”


Senior Advisor to the Supreme Leader, Ali Larijani

In an interview with on Jan. 13, 2021

“I believe they [Americans] cannot return to the JCPOA if they do not remove sanctions.” 

“America’s sanctions are 100% against their commitments and they cannot return [to the deal]. It is absolutely unacceptable that they say ‘we will return and then negotiate’. Their return depends on fulfilling their commitments.”

“The basic principle is that the sanctions should be lifted. There is no doubt on this issue and if they do not do this, they cannot join [the JCPOA] because they have not met their obligations. A road map is needed for how to do this, and if they think that they can fool Iran with, for example, one chocolate, that will show their lack of vigilance.”

Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani


Presidential Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi 

Statement on Nov. 25, 2020 

“Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced today that if they return to the agreement as it was on January 20, 2017, the day when Mr. Trump took office, then we will be ready to return to that, too.”

“We are not going to sit down for talks and discuss every provision of the JCPOA. … I believe we shouldn’t behave as if some fresh negotiations are to be held on the JCPOA.”

“Talks on the JCPOA have already been held, and they resulted in a framework, which has gone through its stages both in Iran and in other countries.”

“What has happened is that countries, especially the United States, failed to make good on their commitments. Our most important demand and condition is that all signatories to the JCPOA, both Iran and other parties, must respect their obligations under the deal.”


Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh

Press conference on Nov. 9, 2020

“It would be naive to think that it is possible to renegotiate the JCPOA. The deal has been struck and sealed.”

“Iran has announced repeatedly that the JCPOA relates to the past and could not be discussed again or renegotiated.”

“The parties to the JCPOA have different commitments, the most important of which has been the commitment to remove the sanctions. Apart from the US’ withdrawal (from the JCPOA), the other parties have sadly failed to lift the sanctions as well.”

Press conference on Dec. 7, 2020

“Iran's stance on the nuclear deal is firm and unchangeable. We don’t see the need to renegotiate the provisions of the JCPOA. We will not re-negotiate what has already been negotiated.” 

“If the U.S. and E.U. fulfill all their obligations under the JCPOA, Iran will return to its commitments as well.” 

Reaction to the E3 (Britain, France and Germany) statement on Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Association on Nov. 21, 2020

“Following the United States' withdrawal from the JCPOA and the reimposition of sanctions, and considering Europe's continued failure to live up to its commitments to helping Iran reap the economic benefits of the removal of sanctions as per the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic took nuclear steps according to the articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA.”

“These steps were taken in full compliance with the JCPOA, and the country has always stressed that they will be reversible once the other parties to the JCPOA implement the deal in full.”

Press conference on Nov. 22, 2020

“Iran will never forget the list of U.S. crimes against the Iranian nation, and in this regard, Iran’s demands from the United States will never change.”

“Iran’s foreign policy is a matter of sovereignty and the policy is formulated and announced based on the national interests of the country,.

“We carefully and vigilantly follow all developments and statements, however until a government is established in the United States, we cannot comment on such issues.”

Press conference on Dec. 7, 2020

“Iran's stance on the nuclear deal is firm and unchangeable. We don’t see the need to renegotiate the provisions of the JCPOA. We will not re-negotiate what has already been negotiated.”

“If the U.S. and E.U. fulfill all their obligations under the JCPOA, Iran will return to its commitments as well.”


Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi

Interview on Nov. 11, 2020

“[W]e are not afraid of Trump's stay in White House, nor are we excited about Biden taking power. We make decisions and take measures based on our own interests.”

“Although there are many changes, the way to return to the JCPOA is not closed. Iran did not leave the negotiating table and the P5+1. It was the U.S. who unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA.”

“If the United States returns to the table of negotiation and JCPOA, all anti-Iran sanctions must be lifted to meet the interests of the Iranian nation.”


Government Spokesperson Ali Rabiei

Interview on Nov. 10, 2020

“We hope that the next U.S. administration will stop continuation of previous mistakes and will try to compensate for it. Rejoining the JCPOA and unconditional commitment to all its requirements is the first step in line with correcting these policies.”

Interview on Nov. 12, 2020

“We expect the new White House officials to unconditionally return to all their previous obligations and commitments. In the first step, sanctions and barriers to the transfer of Iranian money must be lifted and the U.S. administration must be held accountable for the damage it has done to the Iranian people during this period.”

“Basically, when we were negotiating with the Obama administration, we were not actually negotiating with the Democratic Party, we were negotiating with the U.S. government, but it was Trump who pushed back his rival party policies and replaced them with hostile policies. Therefore, we will follow the policies, behaviors, and actions of the other party and adopt the necessary policies accordingly.”


Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf

Remarks in parliament on Nov. 15, 2020

“Although we are happy over [U.S. President Donald] Trump’s defeat, people’s life and livelihood should not be tied to the victory or defeat of anyone in the White House.”

“It is true that Biden is different from Trump but we should know that in the best case he will not be different from Obama who was the architect of the so-called crippling sanctions.”

“While we know the difference (between Trump and Biden) we believe that the new occupant of the White House has clear aims and his policies have already been implemented.”

“For us the practical action of the Biden administration is important, and we’ll show goodwill only if we see in action the process of oil sale, bank activities and trade of Iranian companies with the world, even though we not optimistic about it.”

Remarks in Parliament on Nov. 18, 2020

“Rest assured that the U.S.’s approach toward Iran will not change with the changing of that country’s president.”

“Therefore, in order to change the U.S. approach, we should improve our domestic capabilities. Today, there is this capacity in the country, and definitely, without producing power and progressing in the field of economy as the top priority, this change is not possible.”

Interview on Dec. 4, 2020

“If we do not resist against [the West's] greed, we cannot do anything. In this law, we have explicitly stated that at any moment, the parties in the JCPOA fulfill their obligations, we will return to our obligations.”