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Hopes Dim for Iran’s Return to Nuclear Deal

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Efforts to get Tehran to return to the terms of the Iran nuclear deal are in danger of falling short, forcing the United States and its allies to consider non-diplomatic options to contain the threat, according to top U.S. officials.

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For months, the U.S., along with other major powers, has sought to salvage the 2015 deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) through a series of indirect talks in Vienna. But those talks have stalled, with key officials in Washington now warning time is quickly running out.

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“With every passing day and Iran’s refusal to engage in good faith, the runway gets short,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Wednesday during a press availability with his counterparts from Israel and the United Arab Emirates in Washington.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a bilateral meeting at the State Department in Washington, Oct. 13, 2021.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a bilateral meeting at the State Department in Washington, Oct. 13, 2021.

“We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective way to do that, but it takes two to engage in diplomacy, and we have not seen from Iran a willingness to do that,” he said. “We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course.”

Washington’s special envoy for Iran offered an equally dour assessment during a virtual talk earlier Wednesday.

“We’re realistic. We know there’s a good possibility Iran is going to choose a different path,” Robert Malley said when asked about hopes Tehran would return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

“We have to prepare for a world … where Iran doesn’t have constraints on its nuclear program, and we have to consider options to dealing with that,” Malley said. “Every day that goes by we’re getting a piece of Iran’s answer, every day where they are not coming back to the table, every day where they are making statement about how little was achieved in Vienna.”

The United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018, under then-U.S. President Donald Trump, as part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions and what it described as Tehran’s malign activities.

FILE - Robert Malley, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, walks to a closed-door nuclear talks meeting in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021.

FILE – Robert Malley, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, walks to a closed-door nuclear talks meeting in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021.

In response to the U.S. withdrawal, Iran increasingly abandoned its commitments under the deal by enriching uranium to a higher level of purity and holding larger stockpiles of enriched nuclear material.

To entice Tehran to return to the nuclear deal, Malley said Washington offered to remove all sanctions “that were inconsistent with the JCPOA.”

However, he said while the offer seemed to create some initial momentum, any progress that had been made stalled following the election of new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Blinken warned Iran’s leadership was playing a dangerous game.

“We are united in the proposition that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon,” he told reporters. “We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attends a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Oct. 13, 2021.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attends a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Oct. 13, 2021.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said those other options were at the core of talks Wednesday at the State Department with Blinken and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

“Every day that passes, every delay in the negotiations brings Iran closer to a nuclear bomb,” Lapid said. “Sometimes the world has to show its hand to make sure Iran understands the consequences of running to become a threshold country.”

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