U.S. Warns 'Clock Running Out' on Talks as Iran Advances Nuclear Program

State Department reports modest progress in Vienna nuclear talks, but suggests any deal reached could be rendered meaningless by the pace of Iran's ongoing nuclear proliferation

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi delivers a speech during a ceremony in the capital Tehran, on January 3, 2022
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi delivers a speech during a ceremony in the capital Tehran, on January 3, 2022.Credit: ATTA KENARE - AFP

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that it will consult with European partners on whether Iran is committed to return to the 2015 nuclear deal's terms, warning that the clock will run out on the revival talks when the deal's nonproliferation benefits will be outweighed by ongoing advancements in Iran's nuclear program.

However, nuclear deal talks with Iran in Vienna have shown modest progress and the United States hopes to build on that this week, State Department spokesman Ned Price said amid efforts to revive agreement.

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In the latest round of indirect talks between Iran and the United States in Vienna, Tehran has refused to return to understandings reached in the past and conditioned any progress in the talks upon Washington lifting sanctions.

"There was some modest progress in the talks last week. We hope to build on that this week," Price told reporters.

"Sanctions relief and the steps that the United States would take_ when it comes to sanctions together with the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take if we were to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA – that's really at the heart of the negotiations that are ongoing in Vienna right now."

Iranian and Russian officials lauded progress made so far towards reaching a deal last week. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters that talks on salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal were going the right way and an agreement was possible if other parties showed “good faith” and “seriousness.”\

Senior U.S. officials, speaking with their Israeli counterparts last week, estimated that chances of the talks producing a deal are low. Despite this, Israel has lately warned that Washington’s willingness to return for another round of talks indicates that it may yield on the sanctions issue, even in exchange for a deal that won’t conclusively hamper Iran’s continued nuclear efforts.

According to estimates in Israel, if no deal is reached by the end of January, Iran will cross a significant technological threshold that will render the understandings from 2015 meaningless. The Biden administration also believes it pointless to stretch out the talks any longer.

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