Biden's National Security Adviser Slams Iran's 'Malign Behavior,' Says Nuclear Deal 'Critical Early Priority'

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan participates as US President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet announcement event in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan participates as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet announcement event in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA - AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON - U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday that addressing the "escalating nuclear crisis" posed by Iran is a "critical early priority" for the Biden administration.

Addressing a panel alongside former U.S. national security advisers Robert O'Brien and Condolezza Rice, Sullivan noted that Iran's nuclear program has advanced dramatically over the past several years and that it is significantly closer to a nuclear weapon than they were prior to the Trump administration's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. 

Although Sullivan warned of Iran's "reckless sponsorship of terrorism in the region," both in their "their direct attacks on partners in the region" and "their support for proxies who are getting more audacious," he emphasized the need for a diplomatic solution. 

"If we can get back to diplomacy that can put Iran's nuclear program in a box, that will create a platform upon which to build a global effort – including partners and allies in the region and in Europe and elsewhere – to take on the other significant threats Iran poses, including on the ballistic missile issue," Sullivan said.

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"A critical early priority has to be to deal with what is an escalating nuclear crisis as they move closer and closer to having enough fissile material for a weapon, and we would like to make sure that we reestablish some of the parameters and constraints around the program that have fallen away over the course of the past two years," he continued.

He also did not confine his criticism to the nuclear issue, and said that the administration was "going to have to address Iran's other bad, malign behavior across the region."

Biden administration officials have largely kept to the same message on a potential reentry into the Iran nuclear deal: Iran must resume compliance under the 2015 deal, at which point the U.S. should seek to lengthen and strengthen nuclear constraints while addressing Iran's ballistic missile program and regional activity, and that the U.S. will work with its partners and allies in moving forward. Officials have been careful to note that the U.S. is "a long way away" from any potential deal.

Sullivan's address came after Biden tapped Robert Malley as his administration's special Iran envoy on Friday. Malley reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he wants a team that represents a broad diversity of viewpoints on how best to renegotiate the deal.

On the subject of the Abraham Accords, Sullivan said the Biden administration will work to fully take advantage of Israel's normalization pacts with Arab states while pursuing further pacts with additional countries.

He noted that Biden has been consistent in his praise of the Abraham Accords, even during the heat of the 2020 presidential campaign, and that the administration hopes to build upon the previous agreements.  "[Biden] said consistently over the course of the last several months that he would like to carry forward this initiative and deepen the cooperation between the countries that have signed the accords and add additional countries, as well," Sullivan said. 

"He sees that as being positive for security in the region, positive for economic development in the region and positive for America's national interests," Sullivan added.

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