US must stop arms sales to region before any talks on Iran missiles, FM Zarif says

Iran’s foreign minister says the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, officially known as the JCPOA, did not include Iran’s defensive capabilities because the US was not prepared to stop its arms sales to the region as a precondition.

Mohammad Javad Zarif made the remarks in an exclusive Skype interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday evening, when asked about the US call for inclusion of non-nuclear issues in the JCPOA.

“The nuclear deal was negotiated based on what we could agree and what we could not agree. This is the deal that was made,” Zarif said.

“The United States has to accept that … we decided not to agree upon certain things, not because we neglected them, but because the United States and its allies were not prepared to do what was necessary. Is the US prepared to stop selling arms to our region?”

Zarif said Iran “spends a seventh of Saudi Arabia on defense, with 2.5 times its population.”

“If it wants to talk about our defense … is the US prepared to reduce hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons it is selling to our region? Is the US prepared to stop massacre of children in Yemen if it wants to talk about the situation in Yemen,” he added.

“The United States was not prepared to discuss these issues when we negotiated the nuclear deal. That’s why we agreed to limit the deal,” Zarif noted.

Amanpour also asked Zarif about the possible solution to ending a “Mexican standoff” between Tehran and Washington over the two sides’ return to compliance with the JCPOA, in which each of them says the other one must first deliver on its commitments.

n response, the Iranian top diplomat said EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell can resolve the issue in his capacity as the JCPOA coordinator.

“Clearly there can be a mechanism to basically either synchronize [Iran and US moves] or coordinate what can be done. The JCPOA has a built-in mechanism, which is the joint commission. The joint commission has a coordinator … who can sort of choreograph the actions needed to be taken by Iran and the US,” Zarif said.

He said Iran’s moves have always been monitored and verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Iran has shown that it fulfills its promises.

“The side that has not been able to show that it fulfills its promises has been the United States. So the US needs to prove its bona fide. Iran has already proven its bona fide,” he added.

Zarif said the reason why Iran has moved away from its JCPOA commitments is the US’ move to impose a full economic war against Iran.

“First of all the United States must establish its bona fide, to come back to the nuclear deal… The US is not in the nuclear deal because of its own decision to withdraw without taking the routes that were available to it within the nuclear agreement,” he added.

Earlier on Friday, Zarif had noted that Iran will not accept the  US demand that it resume full nuclear compliance before Washington lifts sanctions on Tehran.

The demand “is not logical and will never happen”, he said at a joint news conference in Istanbul with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran’s nuclear deal in 2018. Under the deal, Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

After the US then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.

New President Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the US to the deal. But new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday the US will only return to the nuclear deal once Tehran honors its nuclear commitments.

“The United States unilaterally withdrew from this comprehensive course of action,” Zarif told journalists, speaking through an interpreter. “It is the duty of the United States to return to this agreement and to fulfill its obligations.

“The moment the United States fulfills its commitments, we would be prepared to fulfill ours,” he added.