WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States will not make any concessions to Iran in order to bring Tehran to the negotiating table concerning a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Addressing the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken said the Biden administration will consult with allies and partners in the Middle East - as well as members of Congress - prior to lifting any sanctions on Iran. "We're determined to consult on the takeoff, not just the landing, if there is any movement. Thus far, there hasn't been."
Blinken said Iran's breakout time to a nuclear weapon is reportedly three to four months "and potentially getting shorter and shorter," noting that "the ball is in their court to see if they're serious about reengaging or not." He noted, however, that a potential nuclear agreement does not take away any tools to deal with other aspects of Iran's behavior, highlighting the importance of being on the same side with European partners.
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Blinken's remarks follow a White House announcement that the United States and Israel will hold on Thursday their first virtual strategic consultative group meeting, led by U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat.
According to a White House statement, the talks "will focus on regional issues, building on the close consultations between the two sides over the past several months," and is part of a "broader ongoing dialogue between the United States and Israel on the full range of issues of importance to the bilateral relationship, building on longstanding dialogues between our two nations under previous administrations."
140 bipartisan lawmakers urged the administration earlier this week to adopt a comprehensive approach to curb the range of regional threats posed by Iran. Iran has recently accelerated its violations of restrictions under the 2015 nuclear deal, which granted it relief from financial sanctions in return for curbs to its nuclear activities. The Biden administration's bid for diplomacy has been overshadowed in recent weeks as Iran-backed militia fired rockets on U.S. forces in Iraq, triggering concerns about escalation.
‘Clear opposition’ to ICC
Blinken reiterated the Biden administration's opposition to the International Criminal Court prosecutor's decision to open a formal investigation into war crimes in the Palestinian Territories, which will examine both sides in the conflict.
"It's been our view and remains our view that jurisdiction is reserved when a state consents to it, or if there's a referral by the United Nations Security Council,” Blinken said. “Neither is true in the case of Israel and the Palestinian matter. We have the capacity ourselves to provide accountability when those issues arise, and we will continue to make clear our opposition."
He clarified that the Biden administration is still reviewing the sanctions placed by the Trump administration on ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
Blinken also said the U.S. would "absolutely" work to encourage more Arab and Muslim countries to seek normalization pacts with Israel.
"We applaud the steps that have been taken toward normalization with Israel by a number of countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco,” he said. “These are very important and we want to build on them. It's terrific and it's a dream come true to see the level of stability in the Middle East that many of us thought could never occur."
He did note, however, that the Abraham Accords are not a substitute for solving "the Israeli-Palestinian challenge," saying that "we have an obligation to continue to try to work on advancing the prospects of a two-state solution," and adding that there is no suitable alternative to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Asked about the administration's reengagement with the UN Human Rights Council, Blinken acknowledged "significant concerns" about its anti-Israel bias and "repeated efforts to hold Israel to a standard that it does not hold other countries to."
"It's our view that in terms of reforming the council and making sure that it is doing the right thing and focusing on what it's supposed to be focusing on, we're much better off at the table and outside the room when we've been at the table and the council we've been able to actually get some changes including shifting its focus away from one-sided efforts against Israel."
Blinken assured the committee that he will cooperate with Congress in combatting Palestinian organizations designated as terror groups, as well as vowing to upholding the Taylor Force Act, which limits U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority over its payments to convicted terrorists and their families.
"President Biden was actually in Israel about a mile and a half away from Taylor Force when he was murdered. He spoke out about that immediately, and has been a forceful advocate for doing justice by Taylor Force and making sure that we are making good on the obligations that we have under the Taylor Force Act."
In regards to antisemitism, Blinken said that the U.S. has to combat extremism "both at home and around the world, and we have to make sure that we are organizing with other countries to do that." He reiterated the Biden administration's opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, saying "that hasn't changed and won't change."