February 14, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1624

Iran Is Insisting On Its Demands From A Year Ago: The Biden Administration Must Lift Sanctions, Recognize It As A Nuclear Threshold State, And Accept Its Expansion In The Region – Part I

February 14, 2022 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1624


In light of the progress in the nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna that is being reported in media, and of the Biden administration's reported determination to return to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement, the Iranian regime is insisting on the demands it presented to the Biden administration a year ago: lifting of the sanctions, recognizing Iran as a nuclear threshold state, and accepting Iran's expansion in the Middle East region.

Part I of this analysis will again set out the demands presented by the Iranian regime to the Biden administration when President Biden took office in January 2021, as discussed in the February 5, 2021 MEMRI analysis Iran Uses 'Maximum Pressure' On Biden Administration To Have Sanctions Lifted And Be Recognized As Nuclear Threshold State – And Based On This, To Attain Nuclear Balance Of Terror.

Part II, to be published in the near future, will focus on the argument in recent weeks in Iran over conducting direct negotiations with the U.S., as reflected in the Iranian media.

The following are excerpts from the February 2021 MEMRI analysis on the demands presented by the Iranian regime to the Biden administration:

The JCPOA – The Iranian Regime's National Project

In early 2021, Iran began implementing a policy of "maximum/wise resistance,"[1] manifested in "maximum pressure" on the U.S. and the international community in a range of arenas. This policy was aimed at causing the Biden administration to lift all sanctions on Iran and compensate it for the damage they caused; leverage Iran's nuclear accomplishments to date to gain additional ones; and have Iran recognized as a nuclear threshold state with the ability to produce a nuclear bomb within a short time, in order to move towards a nuclear balance of terror in the Middle East, to block European initiatives to include the issue of Iran's ballistic missile development and its expansion in the region in a new agreement, and to ensure the continued existence of the Iranian regime.[2]

It must be understood that Iran's nuclear program is the Iranian regime's national project, and that all political streams – ideologues, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the government of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif – are fully on board with it. The 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, arrived at with the Obama administration, was achieved through full planning, consent, and coordination of the entire Iranian regime elite, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's consultation and oversight throughout, with the aim of improving revolutionary Iran's strategic status.

Iranian representative to the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi said on January 19, 2021 that it was "not correct to say that the nuclear agreement is the product of the Rouhani government, [because] the Supreme National Security Council provided its opinion and Khamenei gave instructions in this matter as well. The nuclear agreement was an issue that the group regime [decisionmakers] talked about, and now we have reached a critical stage, and we are moving ahead according to Majlis legislation."[3]

It should be emphasized that even the father of Iran's nuclear project, IRGC general and doctor of physics Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was assassinated in late November 2020, was party to the shaping of the JCPOA, in accordance with demands from the regime and the Iranian leadership. On December 1, 2020, Iranian government spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh acknowledged: "Fakhrizadeh stood behind the scenes and helped with the nuclear agreement."[4] Even Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi, who was one of the directors of the nuclear talks with the U.S., said on January 5, 2021, in a radio interview about Fakhrizadeh's contribution to the shaping of the JCPOA: "During the negotiations for the nuclear agreement, we benefited from Fakhrizadeh's close consultations. His technical guidance was very beneficial, and we were in constant touch with him on several of the issues for which we had to consult him. Fakhrizadeh cooperated with us with much love, passion, and motivation in order to serve the national interest, and provided us with very valuable perspectives. His absence is a great loss for us."[5]

Accordingly, the Iranian regime refused to declare the JCPOA nullified in response to the Trump administration's moves against Iran – see for example statements by Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee spokesman Hossein Nakbi Hosseini on July 29, 2019 that Iran would gradually reduce its commitment to the JCPOA's conditions until the agreement is rendered practically nonexistent, but that it would not withdraw from it.

To view Naghavi-Hosseini's statements on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

In order to preserve the agreement, the regime announced that its framework would be maintained, even though it had rendered it devoid of all content (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1481, Even As UK, France Acknowledge That Iran Is Violating The JCPOA, The Trump Administration, After Ostensibly Withdrawing From It, Continues To Preserve It – By Means Of Its Waivers For Civilian Nuclear Cooperation With Iran, November 6, 2020).

Iran's Demands For The Biden Administration

Supreme Leader Khamenei: "Our Issue Is Not Whether Or Not The U.S. Will Return To The JCPOA – Our Rational Demand Is The Lifting Of The Sanctions"; The Islamic Republic Regime Must "Strengthen Our Friends And Supporters In The Region"; "Our Presence In The Region Creates Stability... [And Is] Final"

Supreme Leader Khamenei had already authorized the permissibility of renewing talks with the Biden administration, in a speech on January 8, 2021 in which he set out the outline of the negotiations and Iran's demands for the Biden administration: "The Western front and our enemies must end this cruel move – meaning the sanctions on the Iranian nation – and stop this immediately. They are required to lift all the sanctions... Of course, I have said this many times, and I will reiterate: They [the West] must lift the sanctions..."

"As for our presence in the region, of which it is always said [by the U.S. and the West] – why is Iran present in the region[?] The Islamic Republic regime is committed to acting in a manner that will strengthen its friends and supporters in the region. It is our duty. Our presence means the strengthening of our friends [in the region] and of our supporters... Our presence [in the region] creates stability. It has been proven that the presence of the Islamic Republic eliminates the causes of instability, [such as] ISIS in Iraq, various issues in Syria, and so on... Therefore, this regional presence is final[.] It should exist and it will exist...

"They are talking about [the possibility] of a U.S. return to the JCPOA. We do not insist [on this] at all. We are in no hurry for America to return to the JCPOA[;] our issue is not whether or not the U.S. will return to the JCPOA. Our rational demand is the lifting of the sanctions... This is the plundered right of the Iranian nation...

"If the sanctions are lifted, the return of the U.S. to the JCPOA will have meaning. Of course, the issue of the damages [caused to Iran by the U.S. and the reparations for these] are part of our demands, and [those in charge in the regime] will be following up on this [issue] in later phases.

"However, if the sanctions are not lifted, the return of the U.S. to the JCPOA may be to our detriment... Indeed, I have told the officials of both the executive and legislative branches of [Iran's] government to continue to act within these areas in careful accordance with the rules.

"The second point is that the decision of the Majlis and the government not to comply with obligations dictated by the JCPOA is the correct decision. The decision is completely logical, rational, and acceptable."[6]

President Rouhani: The Biden Administration Must Compensate Iran For The Mistakes Of The Trump Administration

President Rouhani said in a government meeting on January 20, 2021: "If the new members of the White House have learned any lessons from the previous administration, they will make up for [Trump's] mistakes. The previous president built skyscrapers and did not understand politics. But the new American administration understands politics and has political experience... The ball is in the court of the U.S. and Washington. If they fulfil their obligations, we will too. Trump is dead, but the JCPOA is still alive."[7]

Foreign Minister Zarif: A U.S. "Return To The JCPOA Is Secondary; The Main Issue Is Normalizing Our Economic Relations With Other Countries" – That Is, Lifting The Sanctions

In an interview for Leader Khamenei's website, Iran's foreign minister at the time, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said: "The purpose of the JCPOA was to get these sanctions lifted. Today, in order to meet these conditions, it is not enough for the U.S. to merely return to the JCPOA. It must lift the sanctions, meaning, it must not merely say it is implementing the JCPOA.

"Over the past four years, Trump's goal was to destroy the JCPOA. First, the U.S. must fulfil its obligations; then the issue of its return to the JCPOA is secondary. The main issue is normalizing our economic relations with other countries...

"Therefore, it is the will of the Leader, of the state officials, and of those in charge of negotiations that the canceling of the sanctions be the highest priority. Only then will the issue of the U.S.'s reentry into the JCPOA be considered...

"[The Europeans and Americans] must lift the restrictions they placed on the sale of Iranian oil... Our banking relations must return to normal. Our contracts with various companies must be implemented. The various aspects of the banking via intermediaries must return to their original state. The problems with transporting [cargo between Iran and other countries] and our insurance must be reversed.

"In other words, everything in the second appendix of the JCPOA emphasizes the effects of these actions. [We are demanding] that Biden not merely sign the text. A signature is required, but that is just an obligatory condition. The [required] condition is for us to see the effects of U.S. actions [on us]...

"As for reparation for the damages caused, the Leader [Khamenei] has told us, both in his instructions and in his public speech, that the issue of the damage done is one of the topics to be discussed in the next phases... The actions of the U.S. have harmed the Iranian people... We must not forget that 50 Chinese companies were boycotted by Trump over the past four years, and our [Chinese] partners have suffered. Those losses must also be recompensed...

"Following [UNSC] Resolution 2231, the U.S.'s participation in the JCPOA is only useful if it has economic benefits for Iran. The Islamic Republic's goal was met with [Resolution] 2231, meaning the resolutions passed [by the UNSC] against Iran are annulled. Now the U.S. can regain that privilege by joining the JCPOA; and this is not a privilege [that the U.S.] will be giving us, but a privilege it itself will gain, [that will then] allow it to supervise the implementation of the JCPOA. Therefore, the return of the U.S. to the JCPOA without a lifting of the sanctions would not only not benefit us, but it will benefit [only] America...

"They [the parties to the JCPOA] have no right whatsoever to [impose new conditions for Iran] at all [for them to lift the sanctions]. First, the subject of the JCPOA was Iran's nuclear program, not [Iran's] missiles; they had nothing to do with it. [Moreover,] the UNSC resolution was about nuclear warhead missiles, [which we do not possess].

"When Iran has no nuclear weapons, [talk about] missiles with nuclear warheads is meaningless. Therefore, firstly, this is irrelevant to us, and we also draw the line at [nuclear weapons]. Secondly, the parties to the JCPOA, whose annual sales of weapons to the region have amounted to over $100 billion, are in no position to tell Iran to forgo its [missile] defenses... The Europeans and the Americans should know that we will not discuss what has already been resolved. This would be against the rules of negotiation."[8]

Assessment: Signs That Iran Will Revive Its Demand For Nuclear Threshold Status With The Ability To Produce A Nuclear Weapon

The Iranian strategy for negotiating with the Biden administration is based on the following principles:

  • The 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement will remain unchanged.

  • The U.S. must lift all sanctions with no connection to any other aspect of its relations with Iran.

  • After the sanctions are lifted, Iran will demand reparations for the damage caused it by the Trump administration.

  • A new agreement is possible as far as Iran is concerned, provided that it guarantees Iran a nuclear aspect to its status, beyond that provided by the Obama administration in the JCPOA. This new aspect will be American consent to Iran being recognized as a nuclear threshold state with the ability to produce a nuclear weapon.

It should be clarified that Iran has already demanded nuclear threshold status according to the German/Japanese model – from the EU3 (the UK, France, and Germany, with which it conducted nuclear negotiations up until 2006) and from the Obama administration. Both Germany and Japan have the capability to produce a nuclear bomb but they remain at the threshold of this capability, according to explicit restrictions in their constitutions.

Two Iranian foreign ministers, Kamal Kharrazi, in 2005, and Manouchehr Mottaki, in 2009, demanded that Iran's status be the same as Germany's and Japan's, both of which are recognized as nuclear threshold states but are not suspected of intending to produce nuclear weapons (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 888, Iran Becomes A Nuclear Threshold State, October 4, 2012).

At a February 17, 2005 meeting in Berlin with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer, Foreign Minister Kharrazi proposed the Japanese/German model as the basis for Iran-EU negotiations. In a meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Kharrazi elaborated on Iran's perspective how to resolve the dispute with the EU3: "Peaceful nuclear plants in Germany and Japan can serve as a good model for Iran's nuclear projects, and serve as the basis for any round of talks in that respect."[9]

At a May 2009 joint press conference with Japanese foreign minister Hirofumi Nakasone, Foreign Minister Mottaki called for implementing the Japanese nuclear model in Iran as well, saying, "The view that exists about Japan's nuclear activities should be applied to other countries including Iran." Mottaki reiterated that Iran's nuclear activities were "legal and peaceful," and said, "Japan spent many years to build confidence about its nuclear work. Iran is moving on a similar path... During the confidence-building years, Japan was never obliged to suspend its [nuclear] activities."[10]

To justify their demand for a nuclear balance of terror, Iranian regime officials argued that Iranian nuclear weapons would not be used for destroying Israel (which, according to senior Iranian officials, Iran can destroy with conventional weapons),[11] and will not destabilize the region – on the contrary. Nuclear weapons, they say, will establish a balance of terror that will assure stability and security in the region, based on the strategic, political, and security balance between Iran and its rivals in the Middle East.

The Iranians are striving to create a nuclear balance of terror based on regional equilibrium. This balance of terror will be based on Iran's status as a nuclear threshold state. For this, they assess that they can win the support of the Biden administration, which is subject to the influence of former top Democratic officials – among them President Obama, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

In 2009, as Secretary of State, Clinton explicitly presented the possibility that Iran would have nuclear weapons, and recommended to the Iranians that they reassess the situation in such a case. Iran would not be able, based on its nuclear weapons, to intimidate and dominate its neighbors, because the U.S. would provide the Gulf states with an American defensive umbrella. On the margins of a security summit in Thailand in July 2009, she said: "We want Iran to calculate, what I think is a fair assessment, that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it's unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon."[12]

The first signs of Iran's striving for these goals could be identified in Expediency Council officials' statements openly supportive of lifting the ban on nuclear weapons in Khamenei's (nonexistent) fatwa, and of Iran possessing nuclear weapons. Their statements can be explained as the Iranian leadership's unique method in the nuclear race; Iran is trying to achieve open international legitimacy for its ability to attain nuclear weapons and justifying this with the pretext of achieving regional stability.

The Iranian regime assesses that it can force the Biden administration to agree to upgrade Iran's nuclear status. That is to say, the Obama administration recognized Iran's right to enrich uranium with a full nuclear fuel cycle, and now the Biden administration can be led to consent to a nuclear balance of terror in the Middle East, as part of which Iran will have nuclear weapons for "defensive purposes."[13] The Iranian regime is striving to force the Biden administration and the international community to agree to upgrade Iran's nuclear status. It assesses that after the Obama administration recognized, in 2012, three years before the JCPOA, Iran's right to enrich uranium on its own soil and to have a full nuclear fuel cycle, it would be possible, nine years later, to lead the Biden administration to consent to a nuclear balance of terror in the Middle East in which Iran will have nuclear weapons for defensive purposes.

The first hints of the Iranian regime's initiative to gain legitimacy for such a nuclear balance of terror in the Middle East based on its progress towards recognition as a nuclear threshold state came in statements by Iranian officials who were members of the regime's Expediency Council. They spoke openly about the Iranian regime's need for a nuclear bomb, and that if circumstances require it, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can change his (nonexistent) fatwa banning Iranian use of nuclear weapons.[14] These speakers included Mostafa Najafi, secretary of the foreign and international relations working group of the regime's Expediency Council and political commentator for Middle East affairs who writes for several dailies affiliated with pragmatic regime circles in Iran. In an article published December 13, 2020 in the Iranian Foreign Ministry mouthpiece Irdiplomacy, and another published January 28, 2021 in the pragmatic daily Tabnak, he justified a future demand by Iran for nuclear weapons (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9170, Iranian Expediency Council Official In Article In 'Tabnak' Daily: 'Why Iran Is Demanding A Nuclear Bomb,' February 4, 2021).

Another official, Amir Mousavi, who directs the regime's Center for Strategic Research and International Relations, an arm of the Expediency Council, and who is a former Iranian ambassador to France, spoke in two interviews with Arab and Russian media about changing Khamenei's nuclear fatwa and about obtaining nuclear weapons:

To view MEMRI TV clip " Former Iranian Diplomat Amir Mousavi: Iran Doesn't Need Nuclear Weapons To 'Put An End' To The Zionist Entity – However, Khamenei Might Resort To Changing Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons," click here or below:

To view MEMRI TV clip "Former Iranian Diplomat Amir Mousavi: Khamenei Might Resort to Changing Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons," February 1, 2021, click here or below:

Additionally, on February 8, 2021, Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said, on Iran's Channel 2 TV, that Iran's nuclear industry was for civilian purposes and that Supreme Leader Khamenei had explicitly said in his (nonexisted) fatwa that nuclear weapons are forbidden by shari'a and that Iran is not working in this direction. He added, however, that just like a cat when it is cornered, Iran might "change its behavior" if pushed, and that if Iran produces nuclear weapons, it will not be the fault of Iran but of those who pushed it into doing so. He said: 

"Our nuclear industry is for peaceful purposes. The leader said explicitly in his fatwa that producing nuclear weapons contradicts the shari'a and that the Islamic Republic does not pursue this and considers this forbidden. However, when you push a cat to the corner, it might behave differently from a free cat. If Iran is pushed in that direction, it would not be Iran's fault, but the fault of those who pushed it. Under normal circumstances, Iran has no such plans or intentions."

To view Minister Alavi's statements on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

It should be recalled that Section T of Annex I of the JCPOA allows Iran to use "explosive detonation systems suitable for a nuclear explosive device," with the approval of the JCPOA Joint Commission (see MEMRI Daily Brief No. 180, How Iran Deceived The U.S. Intelligence Community – Part II: Iran Does Not Allow The IAEA To Monitor The Most Critical Area Of Its Nuclear Project – Developing A Nuclear Explosive Device (Section T In The JCPOA), March 18, 2019).

* A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project.


[1] The phrases are responses to President Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" and President Biden's policy of "wise pressure" on Iran. On January 24, 2021, Yadollah Javani, deputy representative of Khamenei in the IRGC, said that it was the "maximum resistance of the Iranian people under the strategic guidance of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution and the might of the Islamic Republic" that defeat the U.S., whether the administration is Trump's or Biden's, and stated that in light of "Biden's policy of 'wise pressure' [as he described his approach to Iran during his election campaign], our nation must also launch 'wise resistance.'" Fars, Iran, January 24, 2021.

[2] As far as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is concerned, the aim of Iran's nuclear program is to ensure the survival of his regime. See Inquiry and Analysis No. 837, Khamenei's Aim at the Nuclear Talks – Securing the Survival of His Regime, May 15, 2012; Inquiry and Analysis No. 1306, Iran Will Not Cancel The JCPOA – Because It Grants Iran Nuclear State Status And Is A Western Guarantee For The Regime's Survival, April 6, 2017.

[3] ISNA (Iran), January 19, 2021.

[4] Tasnim (Iran), December 1, 2020.

[5] ISNA (Iran), January 5, 2021.

[6], January 8, 2021. It should be noted that regime officials reiterated Khamenei's demands. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chairman Ali Akbar Salehi said, for example, in a January 16, 2021 interview with Khamenei's website: "First of all, America and Europe must not prevent the sale of the Islamic Republic's oil and other products, and second, they must facilitate banking relations so that we will be able to conduct international banking and business... We are committed to implementing the law [passed by the Majlis, under which Iran will enrich uranium to 20% and will expel IAEA inspectors]. The government and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced that they have no technical problem implementing the Majlis law and that within 24 hours we have begun enriching [uranium] to 20%.", January 16, 2021.

[7] Farsi.khamenei.i , January 20, 2021

[8], January 12, 2021.

[10] Iran Daily (Iran), May 4, 2009, from MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 513, Iran Foreign Minister: The Japanese Nuclear Model Applies To Us Too, May 7, 2009.

[11] See MEMRI TV clips embedded in this report.

[12] Guardian (U.K.), July 22, 2009; New York Times, July 23, 2009, from MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 888, Iran Becomes A Nuclear Threshold State, October 4, 2012.

[13] This assessment is based in part on the fact that many important Biden administration appointees are former Obama administration officials, and Obama and his vice president John Kerry were influential in this area. See statements by Iranian representative to the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi in his January 19, 2021 interview with ISNA: "There are signs of what will happen with [Biden's] foreign policy, but it is too early to say with certainty [that his policy will be a continuation of Obama's]... The current Biden administration and members of the State Department and his national security team are influential figures from the Obama era, but the current situation is different. Therefore, it is not possible to say that [Biden] will continue the same foreign policy [as Obama]." ISNA, Iran, January 19, 2021.

[14] See MEMRI reports showing that Khamenei's alleged fatwa banning Iran's use of nuclear weapons does not exist: Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec'y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei, April 19, 2012; Tehran Again Offers Khamenei's Nonexistent Fatwa In Negotiations As A Guarantee That It Is Not Developing Nuclear Weapons, November 14, 2014; Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Reiterates Iran's Lie, Promoted By Obama Administration, That Supreme Leader Khamenei Issued Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons; No Such Fatwa Ever Existed, May 31, 2019; Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec'y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei, April 19, 2012; Release Of Compilation Of Newest Fatwas By Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei – Without Alleged Fatwa About Nuclear Bomb, August 13, 2013; President Obama Endorses The Lie About Khamenei's 'Fatwa' Against Nuclear Weapons, September 29, 2013; The Official Iranian Version Regarding Khamenei's Alleged Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa Is A Lie; October 3, 2013; Iranian President Hassan Rohani In Article In Saudi Daily: While Avoiding Confrontation And Hostility, We Shall Be Diligent In Pursuing Our Supreme Interests, December 23, 2013; U.S. Secretary Of State Kerry In New And Unprecedented Statement: 'President Obama And I Are Both Extremely Welcoming And Grateful For The Fact That [Iranian] Supreme Leader [Khamenei] Has Issued A [Nonexistent] Fatwa' Banning Nuclear Weapons, March 31, 2014; Tehran Again Offers Khamenei's Nonexistent Fatwa In Negotiations As A Guarantee That It Is Not Developing Nuclear Weapon, November 14, 2014; Iranian Regime Continues Its Lies And Fabrications About Supreme Leader Khamenei's Nonexistent Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons; April 6, 2015; Insights Following Exposure Of Iran's Military Nuclear Program – Part I: The Leadership Of Iran's Religious Regime Lies About Essential Islamic Matters, Manipulates Religion To Justify Its Grip On Power, Regional Expansion; May 6, 2018.

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