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Blinken says that for Iran, ‘the path to diplomacy is open’

US secretary of state won’t say if Washington has reached out to Tehran, vouches for nuclear deal, says Iran still ‘ways away’ from being in compliance

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the US was open to diplomacy with Iran and voiced support for the 2015 deal Iran signed with world powers, while asserting that it must not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Blinken said that for Iran, “the path to diplomacy is open.”

He reiterated the US stance that Iran must first return to compliance with the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and said that, “Right now, Iran is still a ways away from being in compliance, so we’ll have to see what it does.”

When asked if the US had reached out to Iran, Blinken declined to say.

“At present, the president’s, I think, been very clear publicly, repeatedly, about where we stand.  And we’ll see what, if any, reaction Iran has to that,” he said.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said it will return to the deal if Iran first returns to its terms, but Iran has said the US must first lift sanctions before talks resume, putting the two sides at a stalemate for now.

Iran has gradually broken the terms of the deal, including in recent months, since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and imposed punishing sanctions on Tehran.

Iran on Monday reiterated its warning that it will halt certain nuclear inspections if other parties to the deal “fail to meet their obligations” by February 21.

Illustrative: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, Jan. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno, File)

The Iranian foreign ministry said the move would see Iran end its adherence to the “additional protocol” of the nuclear accord, which prescribes intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Recent Iranian breaches have included exceeding the stockpile limit on enriched uranium, enriching beyond the permitted purity level and using more advanced centrifuges than permitted under the deal.

Blinken said the agreement “was very effective in cutting off all the pathways that Iran then had to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon… and it’s very unfortunate that we pulled out of it.”

“The result is that today Iran is far closer to having the ability to produce fissile material for a weapon on short order than it was when the deal was enforced,” Blinken said.

He said Iran’s breakout time, or the amount of time it would take to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so, was longer than a year when the deal was in place, and was now down to three or four months.

“I think we have an incentive to try to put Iran back in the nuclear box.  Presumably Iran still has incentives to get what it bargained for in the deal, which was some sanctions relief, given the state of its economy,” Blinken said.

He repeated the US position that the next deal with Iran needed to be “longer and stronger,” including by covering its ballistic missile program and destabilizing actions in other countries.

US President Joe Biden speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, February 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Interviewer Mary Louise Kelly asked Blinken if a rocket attack in Iraq on Monday outside an airport near where US forces are based was Iran testing the new US administration.

The strike in Kurdish-run Irbil killed one US-led coalition contractor and wounded at least eight people. Previous, similar strikes have been blamed on Iran-backed forces.

Blinken said the attack was “outrageous,” but that it was “too soon” to blame Iran.

“Certainly we’ve seen these attacks in the past.  We’ve seen Iraqi militia, Iranian-backed militia in many cases, be responsible.  But to date, it’s too early to know who is responsible for this one,” Blinken said.

Israel has voiced strong opposition to Washington returning to the Iran nuclear deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been a leading critic of the agreement, which was reached when President Joe Biden was vice president, and warned against reengaging with Tehran on the accord.

Netanyahu on Monday vowed opposition to those who oppose his hawkish stance toward Iran.

“Whoever supports our policies, I’m with him. And whoever endangers us, for example [on policies] regarding a nuclear Iran, which is an existential threat to us, so I oppose that, and I don’t care if it’s Democrats,” Netanyahu said.

Biden has not called Netanyahu after over three weeks in office. The lack of a phone call between the two leaders since Biden took office last month has raised eyebrows in Israel and the United States, though the White House has said the new American president was not intentionally snubbing Netanyahu.

The Whiet House said Tuesday that Biden’s first phone call with a Middle East leader will be with Netanyahu.

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