Blinken says Iran deal no longer a priority, warns Tehran of ‘consequences’

US policy is instead focusing on unilateral and multilateral measures to hold Iran to account over cooperation with Moscow and crackdown on protesters, secretary of state says

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department, January 17, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department, January 17, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken doubled down Tuesday on the assertion that the United States no longer considers reaching an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program a priority, and warned Tehran of “consequences” for its actions at home and in Russia.

At a press conference in Washington alongside UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Blinken said Iran had long rejected the possibility of reviving the original agreement from 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“The Iranians killed the opportunity to come back to that agreement swiftly many months ago,” he said. “There was an opportunity on the table that they rejected, an opportunity that was approved by all who were involved.”

In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal, which traded sanctions relief for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. He then instituted a “maximum pressure” sanctions regime targeting various Iranian sectors, leading Tehran to respond by expanding its nuclear program in violation of the JCPOA.

While US President Joe Biden vowed to try and revive the deal when entering office, his administration has indicated in recent months that it has abandoned the possibility. Reasons for this include Tehran’s radicalized position, demanding at one point that the US remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations; Iran’s cooperation with Russia in the latter’s invasion of Ukraine; and the anti-regime protests that have swept Iran since mid-September, which Tehran has accused Western powers of orchestrating.

In a video that surfaced last month, Biden said that the prospect of reviving the deal with Iran was “dead,” but that he would not announce this publicly.

On Tuesday, Blinken said the matter “has not been on the agenda as a practical matter for many months now” and citing Tehran’s violent crackdown on protesters and its supply of offensive drones to Russia for its war efforts in Ukraine as the current focus of the administration.

“These abuses will not go without consequence,” Blinken warned, noting that “together with many other countries, we’ve been moving forward with a variety of unilateral actions, multilateral measures, using UN mechanisms to try to hold Iran to account.”

Addressing a gathering of AIPAC members in Washington last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was time for Israel, which vehemently opposed the 2015 deal, and the US to align their positions regarding the threat emanating from Iran, after years of disconnect on the issue.

The returning premier said the ongoing protests in Iran and the government’s crackdown on demonstrators shows “that this is a terrible, repressive, terrorist regime.”

Earlier this month, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed that the JCPOA was not “our priority right now” but stressed that the US still believes that “ultimately, diplomacy is the best way” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — a line Jerusalem is less fond of, as it does not include its demand for a “credible military threat.”

Last month, former top defense official and Mossad intelligence chief Zohar Palti warned that Iran was closer than ever to being able to produce weapons-grade uranium, and said that Israel was capable of striking Tehran’s nuclear program even if not backed by the United States to do so.

Jacob Magid and Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.

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