Officials say ex-president left Tehran 'no longer in a box'

As time runs low at Iran nuke talks, White House focuses blame on ‘reckless’ Trump

With Vienna negotiations seen likely to end within a month, one way or another, Biden officials bash predecessors for bolting 2015 deal ‘with no thought as to what might come next’

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Biden administration is gearing up for the end of Iran nuclear deal talks, stepping up criticism of former US president Donald Trump and blaming him for the current situation.

In recent days, both State Department spokesperson Ned Price and White House spokesperson Jen Psaki have attacked Trump for pulling the US out of the 2015 deal — signed by Iran, the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Trump unilaterally withdrew the US in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions, whereupon Tehran began reneging on its commitments and stepping up its enrichment activities.

The decision to focus on Trump is a deliberate one as the current talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the sides back into the deal head toward a conclusion, the Axios news site reported Wednesday, citing two White House sources, saying the Biden administration wanted to “focus the fire on Trump.”

On Tuesday, Price answered a question on the Vienna talks with a comment on Trump.

“It’s worth spending just a moment on how we got here,” Price said. “It is deeply unfortunate that because of an ill-considered or perhaps unconsidered decision by the previous administration that this administration came into office without these stringent verification and monitoring protocols that were in place.”

Price said the Trump administration promised a better deal “that never came close,” and instead “Iran has been able to gallop forward with its nuclear promise.”

On Wednesday, Psaki said none of Iran’s “increased capabilities or aggressive actions they have taken through proxy wars around the world” would have advanced if Trump had not “recklessly pulled out of the nuclear deal with no thought as to what might come next.”

Speaking at a press briefing, Psaki said that as a result of Trump’s actions, “Iran’s nuclear program was no longer in a box, no longer had the most robust inspection regime ever negotiated, no longer had the tight restrictions on nuclear activity.”

Axios said the White House was laying the groundwork for the end of talks, when the US would either re-enter the deal or walk away and apply further pressure on Tehran.

“Both scenarios will generate political backlash, particularly from Republicans, but the White House wants to keep Democrats together in part by emphasizing that it was Trump who triggered this crisis and left them with only bad options,” Axios said.

The report said the talks were likely to culminate by the end of January or early February.

On Tuesday, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the talks were proceeding so slowly that they were unlikely to lead to any agreement “within a realistic timeframe.”

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall damaged on April 11, 2021, at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

The discussions taking place in Vienna “are underway but from our point of view they are slow, too slow,” Le Drian told the French parliament.

“There is a vital urgency on this issue because of Iran’s own actions and the trajectory of its nuclear program,” he added

On Monday Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman had said that efforts by “all parties” to revive his country’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers had resulted in “good progress” during the Vienna talks.

Negotiations to salvage the nuclear deal resumed in late November after they were suspended in June as Iran elected a new, ultra-conservative government.

“There has been good progress on all four issues of removing sanctions, nuclear issues, verification and obtaining guarantees” during the latest round of talks, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters on Monday.

The US has participated only indirectly in the Vienna talks, which seek to bring Washington back inside the accord and to ensure Iran re-adheres to its own commitments.

Le Drian had sounded more positive about the talks on Friday, when he said they were progressing on a “rather positive path” while still emphasizing the urgency of bringing them to a speedy conclusion.

The following day his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the two sides were nearing a “good agreement” due to France “behaving reasonably” after previously playing “the role of a bad cop.”

Britain, France and Germany said last month that the window for concluding a deal was “weeks, not months,” due to the speed of Iran’s nuclear enrichment.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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