Western powers suspect Iranian officials are using the diplomatic push for renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal to buy time for the expansion of their illicit program, U.S. and European officials acknowledged after a disappointing week at the United Nations General Assembly.
“We don't have, yet, an agreement by Iran to return to the talks in Vienna,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on the sidelines of the UNGA’s annual week of high-level meetings. “We’re very much prepared to return to Vienna to continue the talks, and the question is whether — and if so, when — Iran is prepared to do that.”
State Department officials have tried to broker a joint return to compliance with the deal, which is in tatters following former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the pact and Iran’s flouting of the nuclear restrictions imposed by the agreement. Iranian officials have declined to hold a seventh round of the “indirect” talks that unfolded earlier this year, citing the need for internal discussions following the inauguration of a new Iranian president. However, that excuse is wearing thin.
“Iran is taking advantage of the delays in order to compound its nuclear violations, making a return to the JCPOA increasingly complicated,” a French foreign ministry spokesman told reporters Thursday. “If Iran is acting in good faith when it states that it wants to return to the JCPOA and to preserve it, then it must return immediately to the negotiating table that it left more than three months ago now and cease its activities that are contrary to the agreement.”
An Iranian diplomat claimed that “the Vienna talks will resume soon and over the next few weeks” in a public briefing earlier this week. Still, Iranian officials blew off French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s call for them “to take advantage of this week to restart” the negotiations.
"The U.K., U.S., and our international partners are fully committed to a nuclear deal, but every day that Iran continues to delay talks whilst escalating its own nuclear program means there is less space for diplomacy,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a public appeal for the continuance of the negotiations.
Blinken’s team acknowledged a deepening suspicion that Iran is stringing them along.
“It’s not just our that European partners, it’s others who are concerned, as I said, that Iran is implementing its own Plan B — which is to try to expand its nuclear program and again, either not return to the talks, or return to the talks with a delay but then use them as cover,” a senior State Department official told reporters Thursday before Blinken’s press conference.
The official acknowledged U.S. and allied powers are beginning “to look at what we will do” if Iran abandons the talks entirely or develops nuclear-related capabilities that make the 2015 pact obsolete.
“We know that there's steps that we can take to continue to build pressure,” the senior State Department official said. “It's not our preference. We would prefer to come back to the table.”
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Original Author: Joel Gehrke