Returning to the JCPOA’s 2015 agreement is in jeopardy if Tehran does not make concessions during negotiations, says U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The United States and France have warned Iran that time is running out to return to a nuclear deal, expressing fears that sensitive nuclear activity in Tehran could advance if negotiations continue.
In the first high-level visit to Paris by the administration of President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his French guests welcomed a new spirit of cooperation Friday after four years of turmoil under Donald Trump.
But both sides said a key promise by Biden – to return to the 2015 agreement on the Iranian nuclear program dragged down by Trump – was in jeopardy if Tehran did not make concessions during the talks that were held. going on for months in Vienna.
Blinken warned that the United States still had “serious differences” with Iran, which has continued to negotiate since last week’s presidential election won by hardliner Ebrahim Raisi.
“There will come a point, yes, where it will be very difficult to return to the standards set by the JCPOA,” Blinken told reporters, using the formal name of the agreement.
“We haven’t gotten to this point – I can’t set a date – but it’s something we’re aware of.”
Blinken warned that if Iran “continues to turn increasingly sophisticated centrifuges” and intensifies uranium enrichment, it will approach the moment of “unlocking” in which it will be dangerously close to the ability to develop a nuclear bomb.
But Blinken said Biden still supports a return to the agreement, under which Iran had drastically reduced its nuclear work until Trump retired in 2018 and imposed paralyzing sanctions.
“We have a national interest in trying to put the nuclear issue back in the box that was in the JCPOA,” Blinken said.
Blinken said any failure by Tehran to extend a surveillance agreement with the UN nuclear watchdog that expired this week would be a “serious concern” in negotiations to revive its nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran has been in talks with world powers since April to revive the 2015 agreement under which it has agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions. Discussions in Vienna are now on a hiatus, scheduled to last until next week.
After the United States under Trump abandoned the agreement in 2018, Iran responded by violating some of its restrictions. Tehran and Washington have yet to agree on which side should take which steps, and when to revive the agreement.
One of Iran’s moves to reduce compliance was a decision to end the extra monitoring of its nuclear sites by the IAEA in February. Inspections have been extended twice for temporary cases, the last of which ended this week.
“This remains a serious concern,” Blinken told reporters at a press conference in Paris alongside his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian. “The concern has been communicated to Iran and needs to be resolved.”
The UN nuclear school said later Friday that it had not received a response from Tehran on the possible extension of the surveillance agreement, which fell on Thursday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement that its director Rafael Grossi had written to Tehran on the issue on June 17, but that “Iran had not responded to its letter. or did not indicate whether he intended to maintain the current agreement. “
Grossi said “an immediate response from Iran is needed in this regard.”
France – which like the UK, Germany, Russia and China had been in the 2015 deal despite Trump’s pressure – has also stepped up pressure on Iran to move forward.
“We expect the Iranian authorities to take the final decisions – no doubt the difficult ones – that will allow the negotiations to be concluded,” Le Drian told a joint press conference with Blinken.
Discussions have stalled in part because of Iran’s insistence on the lifting of all sanctions, pointing to promises of economic aid in the agreement.
The Biden administration says it is ready to lift economic measures related to nuclear work as ordered by the JCPOA – but that it will maintain other sanctions, including for human rights and Iran’s support for armed groups in the Arab world.
Some experts believe Iran was waiting for Raisi’s election, whose tough approach is backed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s last foreign policy arbitrator.
Analysts said Iran could reach an agreement before Raisi takes office in August – letting him take credit for the expected economic boost, but blames outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who maintains a better relationship with Iran. ‘The West, if the situation deteriorates.