Talks on the return by Iran and the United States to compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear accord "are not going well" as the United States does not yet have a path back into the deal, the U.S. national security adviser said on Friday.
Jake Sullivan, speaking on a webinar, also said the United States has conveyed through European negotiators to Iran its "alarm" over Tehran's "forward progress" in its nuclear program.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters on Friday that the United States believes Iran's breakout time to producing enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon is now "really short."
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not have a precise time for the breakout, which has been estimated to be a matter of months.
"But it's really short. It is unacceptably short," the official said, calling it "alarming."
The official said Andrea Gacki, the Treasury Department's director of foreign asset control, was in the United Arab Emirates earlier this week urging private companies not to evade sanctions against Iran.
"If you are evading sanctions, the U.S. will have its eye very much on you. There will be consequences," Gacki said.
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Also on Friday, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley will return to Washington over the weekend, after another round of indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Vienna.
European powers and the talks' coordinator said Iran and the United States have just weeks to reach an agreement, as talks adjourned for at least 10 days.
The talks have made little discernible progress since they resumed more than two weeks ago for the first time since Iran's hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June.
Tehran's envoys have sought changes to the outline of an agreement that had taken shape in six previous rounds of talks, leaving the negotiations largely deadlocked while Western powers warn that time is running out to rein in Iran's fast-advancing nuclear activities.
"We don't have months, we rather have weeks to have an agreement," European Union envoy Enrique Mora told a news conference after a meeting that formally ended the seventh round of talks.
He said he hoped they would resume this year, while some officials have mentioned December 27 as a tentative date.
Officials said Iran had requested the break, while Western powers had planned on staying until Tuesday.
"There has been some technical progress in the last 24 hours, but this only takes us back nearer to where the talks stood in June," negotiators from France, Britain and Germany, the so-called E3, said in a statement, describing the break as "a disappointing pause in negotiations".
The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Tehran in return for tough restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities aimed at extending the time Tehran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it chose to – so-called breakout time – to at least a year from roughly two to three months.
In 2018 then-President Donald Trump, who vehemently opposed the deal, pulled the United States out of the accord and re-imposed punishing U.S. sanctions against Tehran. Iran responded by breaching many of the deal's nuclear restrictions and pressing ahead further with its atomic activities.
Most experts now say breakout time is less than it was before the deal. Iran says its atomic aims are entirely peaceful.