The White House has warned Iran that if the nuclear talks fail and Tehran’s nuclear “program continues to accelerate”, it has no choice but intensify sanctions.
In her daily briefing on Thursday spokesperson Jen Psaki reiterated that President Joe Biden remains committed prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons through diplomacy. “However, given the ongoing advances in Iran's nuclear program, the president has asked his team to be prepared in the event that diplomacy fails, and we must turn to other options and that requires preparations,” she said.
The Biden Administration decided to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, JCPOA, abandoned by the former president Donald Trump, and as soon as it took office negotiations began in Vienna in April between the signatories of the agreement.
Diplomats said the talks had made some progress, but Iran has now ramped up its demands, insisting on all US nuclear sanction to be removed at once, which has led to a deadlock.
Asked about what threshold or deadline for the US is to decide that talks have failed, Psaki refused to be specific.
"I'm not going to present a deadline today, but what I can tell you is that we have presented a diplomatic path forward. That path is still open, but based on the outcome of the last round of talks and the ongoing advancements in Iran's nuclear facilities, we are laying the path, the groundwork for another path entirely. So it's just meant to be preparations,” the White House spokesperson said.
The Vienna talks resumed on Thursday, but the first session lasted just one hour, and Iran said that it is standing firm on its position.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday it will take a few days to judge whether Iran is showing flexibility in the talks.
"It will probably (be) another couple of days until we have sense of where the Iranians are in the context of the restart of this round and ... the flexibility that they may or may not be willing to show," Price said.
The complexity is that if the US lifts all sanctions at once it loses leverage it needs to make sure that Iran’s path to nuclear weapons is blocked permanently. Washington wants to restore the JCPOA and move farther, engaging with Iran to expand nuclear restrictions and discuss its ballistic missile program, as well as its destabilizing regional policies.
This is what US allies in the region, mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia, who feel threatened by Iran, are insisting on. The Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz visiting Washington and Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farahan on Thursday reiterated their position that restoring the JCPOA is not enough, and it would simply give Iran sanctions relief, while not preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Gantz raised the issue of joint military readiness to be able to halt Iran's nuclear aspirations, if necessary, in his meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The US will also send a senior government delegation to the United Arab Emirates next week to meet with banks over concerns about Iran sanctions compliance, a State Department spokesperson said on Thursday. The move suggests Washington is looking to crank up economic pressure on.