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Blinken warns US ‘getting closer’ to giving up on Iran nuclear deal

Soon, says secretary of state, a return by Iran to compliance with the JCPOA may not ‘reproduce the benefits’ that the original agreement achieved

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a press conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on September 8, 2021 (Olivier DOULIERY / POOL / AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a press conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on September 8, 2021 (Olivier DOULIERY / POOL / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Wednesday that time was running out for Iran to return to a nuclear deal after a scathing report by the UN atomic watchdog.

“I’m not going to put a date on it but we are getting closer to the point at which a strict return to compliance with the JCPOA does not reproduce the benefits that that agreement achieved,” Blinken told reporters in Germany, referring to the deal by its acronym.

The IAEA released a strongly-worded report Tuesday saying monitoring tasks in Iran have been “seriously undermined” after Tehran suspended some of the UN agency’s inspections of its nuclear activities. The watchdog said Iran has also dramatically increased its production of highly enriched uranium in recent months.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said Tehran’s suggestion that talks aimed at reviving the stalled deal were unlikely to resume for two to three months was “far too long.”

The German minister said he had telephoned his new counterpart in Tehran to get him to “return more swiftly to the negotiating table.”

Nevertheless, Maas said Berlin still expects the new Iranian government to continue to support results from negotiations that had taken place so far.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas remove their face masks at the start of a meeting at Ramstein Air Base in south-western Germany on September 8, 2021 (Olivier DOULIERY / POOL / AFP)

Ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi became Iran’s president in early August, taking over from moderate Hassan Rouhani, the principal architect on the Iranian side of the 2015 agreement.

The 2015 deal offered Iran an easing of Western and UN sanctions in return for tight controls on its nuclear program, monitored by the UN.

In retaliation for Trump’s withdrawal three years ago and his subsequent imposition of swingeing sanctions, Iran in effect abandoned most of its commitments under the deal.

But Trump’s successor President Joe Biden wants to bring Washington back into the agreement.

Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi said Wednesday that his country was “transparent” about its nuclear activities, a day after the UN atomic watchdog criticized it for lack of cooperation.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s serious cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency is a clear example of Iran’s will to be transparent about its nuclear activities,” Raisi told European Council chief Charles Michel by phone, according to an Iranian presidency statement.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi speaks before parliament to defend his cabinet selection in the capital Tehran on August 21, 2021. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

“Of course, if the IAEA has a non-constructive approach, it’s unreasonable to expect a constructive response from Iran,” Raisi added.

“What’s more, non-constructive actions of course upset the negotiation process.”

On Tuesday the IAEA said its monitoring at Iranian nuclear sites had been “seriously undermined” by Tehran’s suspension of some inspections since February.

Tehran has quadrupled its stockpile of 60 percent-enriched uranium since May, in open contravention of the 2015 accord with world powers that was meant to contain its nuclear program, the IAEA reported.

The Vienna-based agency warned members that its confidence in properly assessing Iran’s activities — what it called the “continuity of knowledge” — was declining over time and that would continue “unless the situation is immediately rectified by Iran.”

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly opposed the 2015 deal, which it said would pave the way to an Iranian nuclear arsenal, and publicly urged Biden to reenter the deal.

Meeting with Biden at the White House last month, current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned of the “nightmare” of a radical Islamic regime attaining nuclear weapons, and Biden publicly vowed that the US would “never” allow Iran to attain the bomb.

Israel has “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Iran’s nuclear program, military chief Aviv Kohavi said in an interview published Monday.

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