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Iran warns Biden as it pushes ahead with plan to cut nuclear inspections

“The United States is addicted to sanctions, but they should know that Iran will not yield to pressure,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said Sunday.
Image: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi in Tehran
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi in Tehran on Sunday. WANA News Agency / Reuters

TEHRAN, Iran — President Joe Biden is pursuing the same policy against Iran as his predecessor, the country's foreign minister said Sunday, two days before Tehran has threatened to restrict U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities.

In an interview with the English-language news agency Press TV, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said former President Donald Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" was still being applied to Iran.

“The United States is addicted to sanctions, but they should know that Iran will not yield to pressure,” Zarif said. “We are not seeking nuclear weapons.”

He reiterated Tehran's stance that Washington should take the first step to reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, which offered relief from sanctions on Iran in exchange for its agreeing to curb its nuclear program.

Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in May 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions in a bid to isolate Iran and drastically slash its oil exports.

In response, Iran began violating some of the deal’s nuclear limits, and in December, lawmakers in the country approved a bill that would suspend part of U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities if signatories do not provide relief from sanctions by Feb. 23, which is Tuesday.

Iran will also block an additional protocol that allows U.N. inspectors to carry out more intrusive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities.

Zarif insisted that that would not mean Iran was abandoning the deal, but he said the U.S. must still lift sanctions to rescue the pact. “All our steps are reversible,” he said.

The Biden administration announced last week that it was ready to hold talks with other world powers and Iran to discuss the deal, but the countries have been at odds over who should take the first step.

Zarif’s comparison of Biden's approach to Trump's tactics on Iran is a signal of dissatisfaction with the pace and attitude of the Biden administration, said Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, a Middle East security research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank.

“There was optimism that the Biden administration would have acted in a quicker manner when it comes to Iran,” Tabrizi said. “Instead, one month in, it only stated its readiness to participate in talks last week — and for talks to translate into something concrete, it will likely require some time.”

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Meanwhile, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, met with with Iran's atomic program chief Sunday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that the visit was aimed at finding "a mutually agreeable solution for the IAEA to continue essential verification activities in the country."

Grossi was expected to brief the media about the results of the talks later Sunday.

Ahead of the meeting, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state TV on Saturday that the purpose of Grossi’s visit was to “minimize possible damages” to collaborations between Tehran and the IAEA.

He added that nuclear inspections will be reduced by 20 percent to 30 percent after Tuesday but that they will still continue.

Amin Khodadadi reported from Tehran, Yuliya Talmazan from London.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.