White House: We're 'too far apart' for talks with Iran

US despairing over increasingly distant Iran nuke talks, Israeli official says

American officials have lost faith in Iranian side in negotiations, are frustrated as Tehran cracks down on protesters and aids Russian attacks; US calls comments ‘off base’

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

A general view of Palais Coburg, the site of a meeting where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, on February 8, 2022. (Lisa Leutner/AP)
A general view of Palais Coburg, the site of a meeting where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, on February 8, 2022. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

WASHINGTON — The US has soured on the possibility of resuming fruitful talks with Iran over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, and is disappointed and angry at Tehran over its approach to the moribund negotiations, a senior Israeli official said on Wednesday.

The US still believes in dialogue with Iran, but the atmosphere in Washington toward Tehran has turned “very negative,” according to the official, who is familiar with the Americans’ thinking on the issue.

The US has come to believe there is no one to talk to or trust on the Iranian side, the official said, putting Washington more in line with Jerusalem’s position.

The Biden administration is also struggling to square its support for human rights with its negotiations with Iran and hopes for a deal, as Iran violently cracks down on its domestic women-led protests, said the official, who spoke as Israeli President Isaac Herzog was visiting US counterpart Joe Biden for talks that touched on Iran.

Iran’s involvement in Russia’s attacks against Ukraine has further complicated the picture.

Negotiations with Iran over rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which traded sanctions relief for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, fell apart in early September after Washington said Iran tried to insert “unreasonable demands” that would have expanded the scope of the agreement.

A State Department spokesperson said the Israeli official’s characterizations were “off base.”

“We will not comment further on the purported details of any private diplomatic conversations, but the JCPOA is not our focus right now,” the spokesperson said. “Iran is killing its young people and selling UAVs to Russia to kill Ukrainians. Our focus is on practical ways to confront them in these areas.”

US officials have said in recent weeks they are not focused on negotiations and expressed support for the protesters.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday that the US was not at the moment pursuing negotiations with Iran on the nuclear deal.

“We are not seeking or asking for a new set of negotiations or re-negotiation discussions on the JCPOA. That’s not what our focus is on right now. Our focus is on holding Iran accountable” for its crackdown on protests, Kirby said.

“Frankly, we are just too far apart right now to have any meaningful discussions,” he said.

“It never ceases to amaze me what doesn’t seem to be able to soak in in terms of message delivery to Iranian leaders,” he said, referring to criticism over the protests and Iran “enabling the Russians to kill Ukrainians.”

In this frame grab from video taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran shows people block an intersection during a protest to mark 40 days since the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, whose tragedy sparked Iran’s biggest antigovernment movement in over a decade, in Tehran, Iran, October 26, 2022. (AP Photo)

The US and other Western countries party to the JCPOA have imposed new sanctions on Iran over its reaction to the protests.

Iran’s 2015 agreement with major powers has been on life support since then-US president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it in 2018, but on-off talks have been held since April 2021, with the Biden administration initially determined to rejoin the pact.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday accused US leaders of “dragging their feet” instead of making a decision to revive the deal.

Herzog met with Biden at the White House Wednesday, warning the president of the “Iranian challenge.”

US President Joe Biden and President Isaac Herzog, during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“The Iranian regime is crushing thousands of Iranian citizens, men, young men, women, who are demonstrating and simply pleading to have their own liberties,” Herzog said. “This is an example of the way Iran is working, crushing its own citizens, moving toward nuclear weapons, and supplying lethal weapons that are killing innocent citizens in Ukraine.”

Biden did not mention Iran in his own remarks at the start of the meeting, but a White House readout of the talks said he “emphasized his Administration’s pledge to ensure Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Herzog has made Iran a focus of his trip to Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday.

During the trip Herzog displayed visual evidence of Iranian attack drones being used in Ukraine to highlight Tehran’s dishonesty about the war.

Iran and Russia have denied that Iranian drones are being used against Ukraine, but the US has said Iranian troops are on the ground in Crimea assisting Russian attacks.

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