Iran’s Supreme Leader speaks from Tehran by video to residents of Tabriz, February 17, 2021

Iran’s Supreme Leader indicates that there can be an accord with the US on the 2015 nuclear deal, linking removal of American sanctions with Tehran’s return to compliance.

Khamenei used a video conference on Wednesday to put out his standard rejection of negotiations, “There is no use in talking. There is no use in giving promises.”

However, he then signaled his approval of an arrangement of linked steps by the Biden Administration and the Rouhani Government: “This time, only actions matter. If we see action on the part of the other side, we will take action too.”

Each side has adopted a “You Go First” attitude on a return of the US to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, from which the Trump Administration withdrew in May 2018. Tehran is insisting on the lifting of the comprehensive sanctions imposed in November 2018. US officials are demanding that Iran cease its suspensions of the deal’s provisions, including the Islamic Republic’s return last month to the enrichment of 20% uranium, which can potentially be further enhanced to a military grade of more than 90%.

However, analysts have suggested an approach in which there would be a phased interaction of the sanctions removal and the Iranian compliance.

That would still leave the issue of revision of the agreement. The Biden Administration and the European signatories — the UK, France, and Germany — want limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program and extension of terminal dates of the provisions. The Supreme Leader and President Hassan Rouhani have rejected any renegotiation, a position reiterated by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif this week.

See also Supreme Leader and Biden Trade “You Go First” Statements
UPDATED: US, Iran, and the Nuclear Deal — The “You Go First” Dilemma

A Deal with the “Domineering Powers”?

While tipping off the possibility of an arrangement, Khamenei struck a defiant pose, indicating that the US betrayed Iran over the 2015 deal, “This time, the Islamic Republic will not be convinced with hearing such and such words and promises. Things will not be like the past.”

Offering his vision of history from World War II through the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s to today, the Supreme Leader proclaimed that Iran had successfully resisted the “Domineering Powers”. Ignoring the economic crisis from internal problems and US sanctions, he boasted of Iranian military might and a position “among the top five, six, or ten countries in important scientific fields”.

Neither the Biden Administration nor the Rouhani Government has acknowledged back-channel contacts to restart discussions over the nuclear deal. However, earlier this week Qatar’s Foreign Minister visited Tehran, just after speaking with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and the Biden Administration’s envoy for Iran, Rob Malley.

Qatar Plays Broker Between Iran and US Over Nuclear Deal

President Rouhani echoed Khamenei in a Wednesday night phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying that American “inhumane sanctions” must be lifted.

However, on Thursday he took a conciliatory line, saying that Iran was not seeking to “pressure” the US but was upholding “respect for international rules and obligations”.

Merkel urged Iranian adherence to the deal between Tehran and the 5+1 Powers (US, UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia): “It is now time for positive signals that create trust and increase the chances of a diplomatic solution.”