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US says sides ‘a long way’ from return to Iran nuclear deal

American officials say Washington’s top priority is to consult with allies on how to proceed on return to 2015 accord

In this Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
In this Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

The United States and Iran are “a long way” from a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday.

Price said US President Joe Biden has been “very clear” that “if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the [deal], the United States would do the same, and then we would then use that as a platform to build a longer and a stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern.

“Of course, though, we are a long way from that.”

Price said the first steps for Washington were “consulting with our allies, consulting with our partners, consulting with Congress before we’re reaching the point where we’re going to engage directly with the Iranians and willing to entertain any sort of proposal.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price holds a press briefing in Washington, February 2, 2021 (video screenshot)

He added: “We haven’t… had any discussions with the Iranians, and I wouldn’t expect we would until those initial steps go forward.”

An unnamed US official told Reuters the American “priority” was to consult with its regional partners and the partners to the accord first.

The Biden administration has said repeatedly it is willing to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, if Iran first returns to compliance. Tehran has said the US must first remove all sanctions it placed on Iran after withdrawing from the treaty.

US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, January 25, 2021. (JIM WATSON / AFP)

Last month, Tehran announced it was beginning to enrich uranium up to 20 percent — far beyond the 3.5% permitted under the nuclear deal, and a relatively small technical step away from the 90% needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran also said it was beginning research into uranium metal, a material that technically has civilian uses but is seen as another likely step toward a nuclear bomb.

The United Nations’ nuclear agency said Iran has continued to ramp up its nuclear program in recent weeks by further enriching uranium and installing new centrifuges at its underground Natanz plant, according to a Tuesday report.

Iran insists it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a position repeated last week by its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that Iran was currently months away from being able to produce enough material to build a nuclear weapon. And, he said, that timeframe could be reduced to “a matter of weeks” if Tehran further violates restrictions it agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during talks in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

Biden administration officials have indicated that Israel will be involved in its decision-making process regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

The Biden administration’s policy on Iran is expected to be a point of contention between the new US administration and Israel. Israeli officials have voiced strong objections to the US rejoining the nuclear deal, and have also issued threats against Iran in recent weeks.

Israel, along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, are all seeking to dissuade the Biden administration from returning to the Iran nuclear agreement in its original form. The Biden administration has pledged to consult with Israel and its other Middle East allies before making decisions regarding Iran.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in an interview broadcast Sunday that Israel is still keeping open the possibility of taking action against Tehran’s nuclear project if necessary.

A Likud minister close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday the US will never attack Iran’s nuclear program, and Israel will have to decide whether to launch such a strike alone or come to terms with a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic.

Tzachi Hanegbi told Kan News: “Israel will be forced to act independently to remove this danger.”

“It’s possible that in the future there will be no choice [but to attack Iran militarily],” Hanegbi said. “I hope that when our leadership is met with this dilemma, it won’t accept [a nuclear-armed Iran].”

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