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Biden and Iranian Supreme Leader Trade Demands over Lifting Sanctions, Halting Nuclear Expansion

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009. (REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

President Biden said Sunday that the U.S. will not lift sanctions against Iran to convince the state terror sponsor to return to the negotiating table unless Tehran halts its uranium-enrichment efforts, a precursor to nuclear weapon development.

Asked by CBS’s Norah O’Donnell whether the U.S. would attempt to lure Iran back into negotiations by lifting sanctions, Biden responded flatly, “no.”

Earlier on Sunday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the opposite demand, saying America must be prepared to lift all sanctions on Iran in order for Tehran to retire its nuclear expansion and return to its commitments under the nuclear deal.

“If they want Iran to return, US must lift all sanctions. We’ll verify & if it’s done properly, we’ll return to our commitments,” Khamenei wrote in a tweet Sunday.

Khamenei added that that Iran “abided by all its commitments” under the 2015 nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration, but said that the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, and Germany have not held true to the deal. Russia and China also signed the deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Last month, Iran announced that it will ramp up its uranium enrichment to the highest levels since the 2015 nuclear deal was signed. Iran said it would boost uranium enrichment to 20 percent in its underground Fordo nuclear facility, just a small technical step away from the 90 percent enrichment required to build a nuclear weapon.

Around the same time, on January 4, Iran seized a South Korean–flagged oil tanker off its southern border, exacerbating tensions with the West just before President Trump left office.

Iran has moved steadily away from the requirements of the Obama-era nuclear deal since May of 2018, when President Trump pulled out of the agreement. The deal, which was the signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration, gave Tehran billions of dollars in relief from sanctions in exchange for a promise to temporarily curb its nuclear program.

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