Blinken Says Return to Iran Nuclear Deal May No Longer Be Effective

Reuters
Haaretz
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a press conference at the Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a press conference at the Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, Wednesday.Credit: Michael Probst,AP
Reuters
Haaretz

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that time was running out for Iran to return to the nuclear accord, following a report from the UN nuclear watchdog accusing Tehran of hindering an inquiry into its past nuclear activities.

“I’m not going to put a date on it, but we are getting closer to the point at which a strict return to compliance with the JCPOA does not reproduce the benefits that that agreement achieved,” Blinken said after he and his German counterpart hosted a virtual meeting of ministers from 22 countries as well as NATO and the European Union.

"We find ourselves at a moment of discussing with all our partners in the agreement how to react to this," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said alongside Blinken.

Blinken spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid about Iran, and agreed to continue communication on the topic, following the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last month.

Senior diplomats from France, Britain and Germany will meet on Friday in Paris with the U.S. envoy on Iran to discuss the matter.

Iran's president said on Wednesday that a "counterproductive" stand by the atomic watchdog might impede talks on reviving Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in reports to member states reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday that there had been no progress on two central issues: explaining uranium traces found at several old, undeclared sites and getting urgent access to some monitoring equipment so that the IAEA can continue to keep track of parts of Iran's nuclear program.

"Iran's serious cooperation with the IAEA shows its will towards transparency in its nuclear activities," President Ebrahim Raisi said in a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel, according to Iranian state media. "Naturally, in the event of a counterproductive approach at the IAEA, it would not make sense to expect Iran to react constructively. Counterproductive measures are naturally disruptive to the negotiation path also," Raisi said.

While the investigation into the uranium traces has been going on for more than a year, diplomats say the IAEA urgently needs access to the equipment to swap out memory cards, so there are no gaps in its observation of activities like the production of parts for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium.

Without such monitoring and so-called continuity of knowledge, Iran could produce and hide unknown quantities of this equipment that could be used to make nuclear weapons or reactor fuel.

Western diplomats have said that a decision on how to respond to the reports has yet to be reached. When asked on Wednesday, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Claire Legendre criticized Iran's efforts to develop its nuclear program, including activities she said did not have a credible civilian justification.

"We are in close consultation with our partners as to the response to be provided," she said. Senior diplomats from France, Britain and Germany will meet on Friday in Paris with the U.S. envoy on Iran to discuss the matter.

In 2018 then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions.

The Islamic Republic responded to the Trump administration's withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions by violating many of those restrictions.

Indirect talks between U.S. President Joe Biden's administration and Iran on how both countries could return to compliance with the deal have not resumed since Raisi, an anti-Western hardliner, was sworn into office on Aug. 5. France and Germany have called on Iran to return soon and Raisi has said Tehran is prepared to but not under Western "pressure."

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