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Iran welcomes Biden move on Yemen, raises pressure over nuclear deal

Iran on Saturday praised the Biden administration’s decision to halt support for offensive operations in Yemen while pressuring it to return to the Obama-era nuclear deal. 

The country’s foreign ministry hailed President Biden’s decision Saturday on Yemen, which would reverse a policy of backing offensive efforts by the Saudi-led coalition that has fueled a humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies are fighting a brutal war against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, which have ties to Iran.

“Stopping support … for the Saudi coalition, if not a political maneuver, could be a step towards correcting past mistakes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to state media.

The praise comes two days after Biden announced the reversal, which followed mounting bipartisan concerns over the civilian fallout from the Saudi coalition’s offensive. The president also appointed veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking as his special envoy to Yemen.

“This war has to end,” Biden said during an address at the State Department. “And to underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales.”

Besides halting support for offensive operations, the State Department Friday also said it is revoking an 11th hour decision by the Trump administration to label the Houthis a terrorist group, a label critics had warned could hinder the deliverance of humanitarian aid to areas under the rebels’ control.

While Iran praised the Yemen moves, it also urged Biden to take concrete steps toward rejoining the Iran nuclear deal. The pact was finalized under former President Obama in 2015, but former President TrumpDonald TrumpChamber of Commerce CEO to leave: reports Fox News Media cancels Lou Dobbs’s show GOP lawmakers call for Pelosi to be fined over new screenings MORE announced in 2018 he was withdrawing the U.S. from the deal.

“Time is running out for the Americans, both because of the parliament bill and the election atmosphere that will follow the Iranian New Year,” Zarif said in an interview with Hamshahri newspaper published on Saturday.

The Iranian parliament passed a bill in December setting a two-month deadline for the U.S. to ease sanctions before it ramps up its uranium enrichment further. The deadline is Feb. 21.

Biden campaigned on rejoining the deal, describing it as a key tool to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program.

However, the deal will need commitments from Iran to roll back progress it’s made on its uranium enrichment, which its ramped up since Trump’s withdrawal from the deal. Tehran in January resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent – a level it reached before the accords and one that is a key marker in the process to making weapons grade material. 

Biden has said Iran must return to its part of the deal for negotiations to start on a broader deal, though Tehran has insisted that sanctions be lifted before any changes are made to its stockpile. 

“The more America procrastinates, the more it will lose … it will appear that Mr. Biden’s administration doesn’t want to rid itself of Trump’s failed legacy,” Zarif said in the interview. “We don’t need to return to the negotiating table. It’s America that has to find the ticket to come to the table.”

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