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Biden says U.S. will return to nuclear deal 'if Iran does the same'

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U.S. and Iranian leadership expressed a tentative desire to return to nuclear negotiations in addresses at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

In a wide-reaching first speech to the UN General Assembly as president, Joe Biden said that the U.S. must act to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but that the country is willing to return to "full compliance if Iran does the same."

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Later Tuesday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told the annual UN General Assembly in a pre-recorded message that Tehran wants a resumption of nuclear talks with world powers to lead to the removal of U.S. sanctions. 

Hard-line cleric Raisi, who is under personal U.S. sanctions over allegations of human rights abuses in his past as a judge, said the U.S. sanctions, imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018, "were crimes against humanity during the coronavirus pandemic."

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at a press conference in Tehran in JuneCredit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS

Citing Islamic law, Raisi said Iran has no intention to use its nuclear program for military purposes. "All the parties must abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement," he added.

He also said that Trump's proposal for Israeli-Palestinian failed, "like every agreement that is imposed from above," and called the Gaza Strip "the largest prison in the world."

Israel's Foreign Ministry responded to Raisi's speech, saying "Iran's ayatollah regime constitutes a clear and immediate threat to the Middle East and world peace. The new government in Iran, headed by the 'Butcher of Tehran' Raisi, and consisting largely of ministers suspected of terrorism and on global sanctions lists, is the extremist face of a regime that has brought harm to Iranian citizens for over forty years, which encourages and finances terrorism, and which is destabilizing the entire Middle East."

"Raisi continues to fool the international community in a speech filled with lies and cynicism. The international community must condemn the Iranian regime and prevent any possibility of nuclear capabilities and weapons falling into the hands of these extremists," the statement added.

Earlier in the day, Iran said that talks with world powers over reviving its 2015 nuclear deal would resume in a few weeks, according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA.

"Every meeting requires prior coordination and the preparation of an agenda. As previously emphasized, the Vienna talks will resume soon and over the next few weeks," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to IRNA.

The world powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Vienna to try and work out how both can return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which was abandoned by former Trump in 2018. The Vienna talks were adjourned in June after hardliner Ebrahim Raisi was elected Iran's president and took office in August.

On Monday, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters that ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia will not meet jointly with Iran at the United Nations this week to discuss a return to the talks.

But Khatibzadeh said Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian would meet individually with ministers from those countries on the sidelines of the annual UN gathering of world leaders and the nuclear deal and the Vienna talks would be among the main topics under discussion, IRNA reported.

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