US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said only “a few weeks” remain to bring Iran back into compliance and salvage the landmark nuclear deal before the United States considers its “other options.”
Blinken’s comments came as talks continue between Tehran and world powers over the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Iran began violating those restrictions after former President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed economic sanctions.
President Joe Biden has sought to reenter the multilateral accord if Iran rolls back its breaches. Talks aimed at salvaging the JCPOA resumed in late November after a five-month hiatus that followed the election of hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
“We’re very, very short on time,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR on Thursday.
“They’re making advances that will become increasingly hard to reverse because they’re learning things; they’re doing new things as a result of having broken out of their constraints under the agreement,” he said.
Because Iran refuses to meet with the United States in Vienna, US special envoy Robert Malley and his negotiating team are participating in the talks indirectly through intermediaries. In recent weeks, US officials have reported “modest progress” in the talks but have also warned there are other options should diplomacy fail.
“We have, I think, a few weeks left to see if we can get back to mutual compliance,” Blinken said.
The top US diplomat said a restoration of the deal “would be the best result for America’s security,” but added, “If we can’t, we are looking at other steps, other options, again closely coordinated with concerned countries.”
Among the sticking points in the talks is Iran’s insistence that the United States withdraw all sanctions before Iran reverses any of its violations. Tehran has also demanded that any future deal contain guarantees that Washington won’t renege as Trump did three years after President Barack Obama sealed the agreement in 2015.
The Biden administration has said such assurances are impossible, but that the United States has no intention of withdrawing from a renegotiated deal.