In his first year in office, President Ebrahim Raisi backed diplomatic negotiations to restore full U.S. and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Raisi’s goal was to lift and “neutralize” all U.S. sanctions through talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. He struck a defiant tone early on. Iran was not interested in “negotiations for the sake of negotiations,” he warned French President Emmanuel Macron.
Raisi’s government, which took power in August 2021, was slow to restart talks that had begun in April 2021 during the final months of President Rouhani’s tenure. The new team spent months reviewing the state of diplomacy and did not return to the negotiating table until November 2021. It then backtracked on proposals made by Rouhani’s team during off-and-on talks in Vienna and Doha that continued into the 2022. “For more than the one-hundredth time, our message from Tehran to Vienna is that we will not back off from the Iranian people’s nuclear rights… not even an iota,” Raisi pledged on April 9, 2022, Iran’s Nuclear Technology Day.
As diplomacy stalled, tensions mounted as Iran ramped up uranium enrichment and installed more advanced centrifuges. By June 2022, Iran had stockpiled more than 18 times the amount of enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal. It enriched larger quantities of uranium to 60 percent, a technical step away from the 90 percent purity needed to fuel a nuclear bomb. The nuclear deal had capped enrichment at just 3.67 percent. In August 2022, Josep Borrell, the E.U. foreign policy chief who brokered the indirect talks, presented a final draft.
But Raisi then stipulated that Iran would only agree to a deal if the U.N. nuclear watchdog closed an investigation into traces of uranium found at undeclared sites. The investigation was separate from Iran’s commitments under the nuclear deal. It instead related to Iran’s binding obligations on nuclear safeguards as a signatory to the Nonproliferation Treaty since 1970. “Without resolving safeguards issues, talking about an agreement would be meaningless,” Raisi said on August 29, 2022. Britain, France and Germany warned that the demand jeopardized efforts to revive the nuclear deal. The following are Raisi’s comments on the nuclear talks.
In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2022: “One, the Islamic Republic accepted an agreement in 2015 in good faith and with a solid intention and fulfilled all its commitments in the first place, but the result was America breaking its promise and imposing sanctions which, according to their own admission, were the most unprecedented sanctions in history. Sanctions are a punishment for seeking justice and independence of the Iranian nation. Sanction is a weapon of mass murder, and accompanying or remaining silent towards it is aiding and abetting oppression.
“Two, it was America that left the agreement, not Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency stated 15 times in its reports that Iran has fully adhered to the provisions of the agreement.
“Three, at the same time, Iran has paid the cost of complying with its obligations, but due to the violation of the promise of the American side and the non-compliance of the European side, Iran has not enjoyed the benefits of this agreement.
“Based on the capacities seen in the agreement, we took legal measures so that the violating party returns to its obligations. By adhering to its obligations, Iran has been the main axis of the JCPOA's survival, and if it were not for the initiatives and flexibility of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the negotiations would have stopped in the first days.
“Iran's negotiation logic based on a fair analysis of developments is only one sentence: ‘adherence to commitments.’ Reassuring assurances are not just about preparing for a contingency. We are talking about an experience. We have before us the experience of America's withdrawal from the JCPOA and the delay of the current American government in returning to its commitments for more than a year and a half. Today, when the American government is talking about its intention to return to its obligations, another voice is heard from inside that country, which questions the commitment of the United States. With that experience and this perspective, can we act with tolerance in the important issue of ensuring the stability of the agreement?
“Of course, the Islamic Republic, with its vast facilities and wide connections with the world, has neutralized the effects of sanctions one after another and created new opportunities. According to the official admission of the U.S. government, the policy of maximum pressure against Iran has failed shamefully.
“We will find our way regardless of any agreement and continue with strength. Besides, in the serious negotiations we have had, we have shown that if the interests of the Iranian nation are guaranteed, we have a strong will to solve this issue fairly. We believe that the knot of the nuclear agreement should be untied from the place where it was tied.”
In an interview with CBS News aired on Sept. 18, 2022:
Lesley Stahl: Can we start with the negotiations on the nuclear deal. Do you want to- have that deal renewed? Because you know, there are some American officials who are beginning to think that you don't.
President Ebrahim Raisi: If it's a good deal and fair deal, we would be serious about reaching an agreement. It needs to be lasting. There needs to be guarantees. If there were a guarantee, then the Americans could not withdraw from the deal.
Stahl: But you can pull out of the deal I mean, just as well as we could pull out of the deal.
Raisi: You see, the Americans broke their promises. They did it unilaterally. They said that, "I am out of the deal." Now making promises is becoming meaningless.
Stahl: Are you saying that you cannot trust the Americans?
Raisi: We cannot trust the Americans because of the behavior that we have already seen from them. That is why if there is no guarantee, there is no trust.
Stahl: As far as we can tell you don't use it for, ya know, things that can help your citizens, like electricity. You say you want it for peaceful reasons. Like what?
Raisi: Like in medicine, agriculture, oil, gas.
Stahl: There seems to be some evidence that you had been working, at least before, toward a bomb, a bomb, a weapon, and that you might be doing that again.
Raisi: We have responded to these claims several times. They are baseless. The Islamic Republic of Iran has said many times that possessing nuclear weapons has no place in our doctrine.
Stahl: If there is a deal-- would you agree to release the four Americans who are being held here? Could that be part of it?
Raisi: There are Iranian nationals also imprisoned inside the U.S. These people are only in there because they simply tried to circumvent sanctions. And the Americans, we have told them that we can talk to them about this. It can be conducted separately from the nuclear talks. It can be done between the two countries. It is a humanitarian issue. This can be negotiated.
In a press conference on Aug. 29, 2022: “Nuclear industry and having a peaceful nuclear capability is the right of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and no one can take this right away from the Islamic Republic.”
“We have stated many times that nuclear weapons have no place in our defense doctrine, and the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution has declared them forbidden, but at the same time, the Islamic Republic's access to nuclear capabilities that exist in many industries, in agriculture, and in various sectors including oil, gas and petrochemicals is our right.”
“Without resolving safeguards issues, talking about an agreement would be meaningless.”
In remarks on Aug. 13, 2022: “We won't link the country's development and problem-solving to the JCPOA. Additionally, the Iranian negotiation delegation will not leave the table.”
In remarks on April 9, 2022: “For more than the one-hundredth time, our message from Tehran to Vienna is that we will not back off from the Iranian people’s nuclear rights… not even an iota.”
“Our knowledge and technology in the nuclear field is not reversible. Iran’s [continuation of] research in peaceful nuclear fields will not depend on others’ demands or viewpoints.”
In a televised interview on Dec. 5, 2021: “Regarding the negotiations, we started two things from the beginning of the [new] government. One was the neutralization of the sanctions for which we have a headquarters (special office), and the First Vice-President is responsible for this and is pursuing the neutralization of the sanctions. Second is the issue of lifting sanctions, which is also on the government's agenda.”
“They [Western powers] thought that we would not take an initiative. Thank God, today it was proved to the entire world that Iran both participated in the negotiations powerfully and with pride, and presented two texts; both on the nuclear issue and on the sanctions, so things are in line with what is stipulated in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).”
“We do not relate our economy, that is our 1401 (Iranian fiscal year starting in March 2022) budget, to these issues in any way.”
In remarks on Nov. 4, 2021: “The negotiations we are considering are result-oriented ones. We will not leave the negotiating table ... but we will not retreat from the interests of our nation in any way.”
In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2021: “Today, the whole world including the Americans themselves have admitted that the project of countering the Iranian people, which manifested itself in the form of violating the JCPOA and was followed by the “maximum pressure” and arbitrary withdrawal from an internationally recognized agreement, has totally failed. However, the policy of ‘maximum oppression’ is still on. We want nothing more than what is rightfully ours. We demand the implementation of international rules. All parties must stay true to the nuclear deal and the U.N. Resolution in practice. Fifteen reports released by the IAEA have attested to the adherence of Iran to its commitments. However, the U.S. has not yet discharged its obligation, which is lifting sanctions. It has encroached upon the agreement, withdrawn from it and levied even more sanctions on my people.
“The United States mistakenly believed it would render us desperate and devastated, but our perseverance has yielded results and will always do, for the smart and dynamic resistance of the Islamic Republic of Iran comes from our strategic rationality. And we don’t trust the promises made by the US government.
“It is the strategic policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to consider the production and stockpiling of atomic weapons as forbidden based on the religious decree by His Eminence, the Supreme Leader, and nukes have no place in our defense doctrine and deterrence policy. The Islamic Republic considers the useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions.”
In an address at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit on Sept. 17, 2021: “Ensuring the rights of the Iranian people in the area of a peaceful nuclear program is a guarantee of the common interests of developing countries. Nothing can stop Iranian's peaceful nuclear activities, which are carried out within the framework of international regulations. Diplomacy is one of the means of securing the national interests of countries, but diplomacy is effective when all parties adhere to it in practice. Threats and pressure weaken diplomacy and tie its hands. Unfortunately, some parties think that they can use diplomacy as a tool to threaten and pressure diplomacy in their own favor, while with this trick, they practically remove diplomacy from the table and make it ineffective.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran considers the lifting of sanctions to be the inalienable right of the Iranian people and does not consider any process that violates this right to be in the interests of the Iranian people. The Islamic Republic of Iran, while respecting the independent actions of the SCO member states and the non-recognition of US' unilateral sanctions and non-compliance with its illegal sanctions policies, considers strengthening bilateral cooperation, especially in the economic field, as an important factor in promoting the SCO strategic role in the global economy.”
In a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sept. 5, 2021: “We are not against fruitful negotiations, but their result should be the lifting of sanctions against Tehran. Negotiations just for the sake of negotiations do not make sense.”
In his inauguration speech on Aug. 5, 2021: “The policy of sanctions and pressure did not force the nation to pursue its legitimate goals, that's the right to development. The sanctions against the Iranian nation must be lifted. … We support any diplomatic initiative that realizes this goal.”