February 3, 2022
The US State Department has repeated its warning that the window to reach a nuclear deal with Iran is closing fast, without setting a time limit on negotiations.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday said the window of opportunity to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement known as JCPOA “is very, very short,” and added, “that window is very, very short precisely because once Iran reaches the point where its nuclear advances have obviated the nonproliferation benefits that the JCPOA conveyed, that’s a point at which it will no longer make sense, from our national security interests and the national security interests of our allies and partners around the world, to pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and we’ll have to pursue another course.”
Iran began enriching uranium to a higher purity level of 20 percent when former president Donald Trump tightened US sanctions in May 2019. But it boosted enrichment to the dangerous level of 60 percent in early 2021 when President Joe Biden had announced his readiness to return to the JCPOA, abandoned by Trump in 2018.
Ned Price however, blamed the former administration for triggering Iran’s decision to enrich more uranium to a higher degree of purity. A reporter asked him if he believed Iran had a choice and decided to stockpile more fissile material and get closer to a bomb. Price insisted that the JCPOA was preventing such a move and the US withdrawal from the agreement allowed Iran to boost enrichment.
Price avoided a direct response to a question on the most recent political development in Washington, when Democratic Senator Bob Menendez gave a detailed speech on the Senate floor on February 1, questioning Biden’s policy on Iran and its nuclear program. The State Department spokesperson reiterated the administration’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program but did not respond to the Senator’s criticism.
Following Menendez’s remarks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced on Wednesday that Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley will testify next week in a closed session, a demand by many Republicans for answers from the Administration on Iran policy.
Price’s warning about time running out has been a message constantly repeated by the Biden Administration and its European allies for months, without issuing a deadline for Iran to reach an agreement in Vienna. The enforcement of sanctions has also slackened, allowing Tehran to export more oiland claim to be in a stronger position in the talks.
China, which is one of the signatories of the JCPOA and a participant in the Vienna talks, has increased its oil imports from Iran, indirectly undercutting the West’s leverage in the negotiations. There have been reports that the US has asked China not to violate its sanctions, but apparently Beijing has pursued its own policy of expanding ties with the Islamic Republic.
Tehran has also continued its provocations in the region, with repeated militia drone and rocket attacks in Iraq and Syria against US forces. In January, Iran-backed Houthi forces in an unprecedented escalation began launching missile and drone attacks against the United Arab Emirates.
To what extent the US Congress will stay on the sidelines of policy toward Iran is not clear but Senator Menendez appeared determined to put pressure on the Administration.
“It’s time to start thinking out of the box and consider new strategies for rolling back Iran’s nuclear program and addressing its dangerous and nefarious activities,” he said on the Senate floor.