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U.S. prepared to lift nearly all Iran sanctions, Zarif tells parliament

Outgoing Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a report to parliament that the Biden administration has agreed to lift almost all U.S. sanctions on Iran to secure a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Why it matters: The report includes details that hadn't been made public before now and is the most official and comprehensive Iranian account of the status of the indirect talks with the U.S.

  • The Farsi-language document also serves as Zarif's "political will" for the incoming hard-line administration.
  • The other side: A State Department spokesperson told Axios that Zarif's sanctions claims had been raised as priorities by Iran in Vienna, but that no final understandings had been reached and “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

According to Zarif's report, Biden is prepared to remove not only the sanctions reimposed by former President Donald Trump when he withdrew from the deal, but also most of the sanctions Trump later imposed under his "maximum pressure" strategy.

  • Those include the terror designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and sanctions against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • According to the report, more than 1,000 Iranian individuals and entities would be removed from the sanctions list and many secondary sanctions that make it difficult for U.S. companies to do business in Iran would also be withdrawn.
  • The lengthy report does briefly note that some U.S. sanctions would remain in place even after a deal was reached, including on at least one Iranian bank and some metal and shipping companies.
  • The U.S. has also not agreed to lift non-nuclear sanctions that predate Trump on issues like terrorism, ballistic missiles development and human rights violations, per the report.

Zarif's report also covered the steps Iran would have to take to reach a deal, including implementing the “additional protocol” that allows stricter UN nuclear inspections, redesigning the Arak Heavy Water Reactor, limiting enrichment to 3.67% and turning over more than 300 kg of uranium enriched beyond that level.

  • In the case of a deal, Iran would put its more advanced IR-2m, IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges into storage and use no more than 6,104 older IR-1 centrifuges.
  • But crucially, the most advanced centrifuges would remain in Iran rather than being shipped out or destroyed, according to the report, and research and development on advanced centrifuges would continue.
  • Zarif also notes that if Iran resumes compliance, its nuclear limitations will start to dial down in just four years.

What he's saying: “Iran has proved it can revive its nuclear program very quickly if it needs to, sometimes even in less than a day," Zarif writes.

  • He rejects the “false accusations” against him from opponents of the deal in Tehran and says his negotiating team made “exhausting and breathtaking efforts and sweated blood” to protect Iran’s interests.

Between the lines: Zarif is a longtime advocate of diplomacy on the nuclear issue, and his report stresses what Iran stands to gain from a deal while downplaying any Iranian concessions.

  • In it, Zarif urges members of parliament and the new government to show pragmatism and make compromises rather than playing to public opinion. “No agreement is perfect for either party," he writes, and "maximalism leads only to erosive and endless negotiations."
“Reaching an agreement requires courage and willingness to prioritize national interests over personal interests."
Mohammad Javad Zarif in a report to Iran's parliament

What’s next: Zarif writes that “a framework of possible agreement” had been reached and he hopes “what has been achieved so far will be completed in the beginning of the incoming Iranian government."

  • The State Department spokesperson said the precise nature and sequence of the sanctions-related steps hadn't been agreed to, and the U.S. will "not negotiate this in the press no matter what Iran says at home."

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