December 16, 2020, 5:36 AM MST
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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei threw his support behind efforts to forge a diplomatic breakthrough with the incoming Biden administration and restore the 2015 nuclear deal.
His statement sends a clear signal to Iranian hardliners not to stand in the way of talks with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office next month having pledged to rejoin the accord abandoned by Donald Trump.
“If sanctions can be removed, we shouldn’t delay, not even for an hour,” Khamenei said Wednesday in comments almost identical to ones made this week by President Hassan Rouhani. “I support the country’s officials as long as they are committed to the nation’s goals.”
He also told authorities to remain deeply skeptical of the U.S. and “not to trust the enemy,” regardless of who is in the White House.
The top cleric was meeting the family of General Qassem Soleimani, killed by the U.S. in January, and the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to his official website. Photographs showed Rouhani and the head of parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, were also present.
Trump imposed a crippling sanctions regime on Iran in 2018 after walking away from the multilateral nuclear accord, severely weakening the country’s economy and its ability to manage the Middle East’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
Biden has said he’s willing to rejoin the deal if Iran returns to the full compliance it abandoned after Trump quit. Officials in Tehran likely muted their reaction to recent provocations — including the assassination of a top nuclear scientist in an attack Iran blamed on Israel and the U.S. — hoping to allow a breakthrough once talks begin.
Still, Iran’s parliament and Guardian Council, both dominated by hardline conservatives, have approved a law that orders Rouhani to end intrusive United Nations nuclear inspections unless the U.S. lift key sanctions on oil exports and banking within two months. The legislation also calls for the government to immediately ramp-up atomic activity.
Khamenei told officials that while he approved of a swift end to sanctions, they should focus on “neutralizing” their impact and making the economy more resilient to external shocks.
(Updates with comments on trust and the U.S.)