Iran’s president said Wednesday his country was serious about reviving a deal to put curbs on its nuclear program but questioned whether it could trust America’s commitment to any eventual accord.
In 2018, former US President Donald Trump withdrew from a deal brokered by the Obama administration. That has led Tehran to abandon over time every limitation the accord imposed on its nuclear enrichment.
Ebrahim Raisi addressed the U.N. General Assembly as talks to revive the nuclear deal approached a take-it-or-leave-it moment.
“Our wish is only one thing: observance of commitments,” Raisi said, noting it was the US that pulled out of the accord.
He asked whether Iran can “truly trust without guarantees and assurances” that the US will live up to its commitments this time.
European Union officials have warned the window for securing a deal is about to close. The 2015 agreement placed curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief, which Tehran insists it has never received.
“America trampled upon the nuclear accord,” said Raisi, who was sworn in as president only a year ago. His speech marks the first time he has taken the podium at the U.N. in his role as president. Last year, he delivered remarks to the assembly virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.
He also blasted what he said was lopsided scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear activities while other nations’ nuclear programs remain secret, a reference to Israel.
Wearing a traditional black turban identified with Shiite clerics, Raisi also told the gathered leaders that Iran wants to have “extensive relations with all our neighbors” — an apparent reference to foe Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in the region.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have held a number of direct talks since US President Joe Biden took office, though tensions remain high between the two. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates recent reopened its embassy in Tehran and sent an ambassador there.
Raisi also deplored sanctions imposed on Iran, calling them a “punishment on the people of Iran.”
Western sanctions have eaten away at Iran’s reserves and exacerbated inflation in the country, which hit 40% last year. Over the summer, Iran’s currency hit its lowest level ever against the US dollar.
Raisi’s speech comes a politically sensitive time in Iran. Protesters have clashed with police in recent days in cities across the country, including the capital, over the death of a 22-year-old woman who was being held by the morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strictly-enforced dress code.
Raisi has offered condolences to the woman’s family and promised an investigation, while other Iranian officials have accused unnamed foreign countries of seizing on the incident to foment unrest. Her death has ignited long-simmering anger among many Iranians, particularly young people, at the country’s ruling clerics.
Raisi, who was elected last year in a vote that saw low turnout and several candidates disqualified, has been described as a protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In 2019, Raisi was sanctioned by the United States in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, a little over a decade after the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the country’s shah and ushered in its current theocratic-led system.