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UPDATE 2-Iran's top diplomat urges Biden to return to nuclear deal

·3 min read

(Adds Iran opens plant to produce missile fuel, shoulder-firedrockets)

DUBAI, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Iran's foreign minister urgedWashington to act fast to return to the 2015 nuclear accord,pointing out that legislation passed by parliament forces thegovernment to harden its nuclear stance if U.S. sanctions arenot eased by Feb. 21.

Mohammad Javad Zarif also referred to elections in Iran inJune. If a hardline president is elected, this could furtherjeopardize the deal.

“Time is running out for the Americans, both because of theparliament bill and the election atmosphere that will follow theIranian New Year,” Zarif said in an interview with Hamshahrinewspaper published on Saturday. Iran’s new year begins on March21.

The parliament, dominated by hardliners, passed thelegislation in December that set a two-month deadline for aneasing of sanctions.

President Joe Biden’s administration is exploring ways torestore the nuclear deal that Iran signed with world powers butwas abandoned in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, whorestored sanctions.

Iran retaliated by breaching the terms of the accord in astep-by-step response. Last month, it resumed enriching uraniumto 20% - a level it achieved before the accord.

Biden has said that if Tehran returned to strict compliancewith the pact, Washington would follow suit and use that as aspringboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran'smissile development and regional activities.

Tehran has said Washington must ease sanctions before itresumes nuclear compliance, and ruled out negotiations on widersecurity issues such as Iran's missile programme.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Iran onFriday in a virtual meeting with his British, French and Germancounterparts as the group weighed how to revive thedeal.

“The more America procrastinates, the more it will lose … itwill appear that Mr Biden’s administration doesn’t want to riditself of Trump’s failed legacy,” Zarif said in the interview.

“We don’t need to return to the negotiating table. It’sAmerica that has to find the ticket to come to the table,” headded.

On Monday, Zarif hinted at a way to resolve the impasse overwhich side moves first, by saying the steps could besynchronized.

In the latest steps by Iran to develop its missileprogramme, the Iranian military on Saturday opened a plant toproduce hybrid solid fuel for missiles and a factory to buildshoulder-fired rockets, state television reported.

YEMEN STANCE

Separately, Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that anew U.S. stand on the Yemen war could be a helpful step, afterBiden said this week Washington was ending its support for aSaudi Arabia-led military campaign in Yemen.

"Stopping support ... for the Saudi coalition, if not apolitical manoeuvre, could be a step towards correcting pastmistakes," state media quoted ministry spokesman SaeedKhatibzadeh as saying.

But he added: "This alone won't solve Yemen's problem, andthe air, sea and land blockade that killed thousands of peoplein the country due to a lack of food and medicine must belifted, and the military attacks of the aggressor states led bySaudi Arabia must be ended".

Biden said on Thursday the more than six-year war, widelyseen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, "has toend." He also named veteran U.S. diplomat Timothy Lenderking asthe U.S. special envoy for Yemen in a bid to step up Americandiplomacy to try to end the war.(dubai.newsroom@thomsonreuters.comEditing by Frances Kerry)