Blinken: Iran actions risk collapse of new talks

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBiden rushes to pressure Russia as Ukraine fears intensify Trade can improve Jordan's economic burdens made worse by refugees NATO sending ships, jets to Eastern Europe MORE on Thursday said recent rhetoric and actions by Iran related to its nuclear program risk collapsing international talks in Vienna over reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement. 

The secretary also said whether Iran is participating in good faith in the indirect negotiations will be clearer in the “next day or so.”

“I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don't give us a lot of cause for optimism,” Blinken told reporters during a press conference in Stockholm, where he is participating in a conference of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

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Iran returned to the negotiating table in Vienna on Monday for a seventh round of discussions with participants of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Obama-era nuclear deal that former President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE withdrew the U.S. from in 2018. 

The Iranian team had delayed returning to talks for five months amid a change in presidential administrations in August, with the negotiating team under newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi appearing to take a harder line on what it expects from the U.S. over a pathway to return to the deal.

At the same time, Iran has engaged in nuclear activity barred by the JCPOA as talks are underway, enriching uranium at one of its facilities in violation of the agreement on top of carrying out, for months, other behavior banned by the deal.

This includes enriching uranium to 60 percent, far beyond the constraints of the deal and close to the 90 percent enriched uranium that powers a nuclear weapon, and blocking international nuclear inspectors from visiting key facilities. 

Iran began violating the terms of the JCPOA in 2019 in what it says is a response to the maximum pressure campaign of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Tehran has called for the U.S. to lift all of the estimated 1,500 sanctions in exchange for returning to the JCPOA. 

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Blinken on Thursday said there is still time for Iran to reverse course on its nuclear activity and save the JCPOA, which provided Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for intrusive monitoring of its nuclear activities, which Tehran claims are for peaceful purposes. 

“What Iran can't do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks,” the secretary said.

Blinken said the U.S. will remain in close contact with Israel, following a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday. Bennett said he urged Blinken in a phone call to end the talks. 

“We are both determined to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, and we went over in some detail where we thought things stood based on what we've been hearing in Vienna,” the secretary said. “We will continue to be in very close contact with Israel, as well as with other concerned countries, including in the Gulf, about the status of the talks and our assessment of where this is going or where it's not going.”