JEDDAH: The US is pursuing other ways to halt Iran’s drive toward building a nuclear weapon amid a growing belief that talks on the issue will fail.
Negotiations resumed in Vienna last week to try to revive the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers.
The US withdrew from the deal under Donald Trump in 2018, and Iran responded by enriching uranium to levels prohibited under the agreement.
“We continue in this hour, on this day, to pursue diplomacy because it remains at this moment the best option, but we are actively engaging with allies and partners on alternatives,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.
US President Joe Biden has said he is ready to return to the agreement and Iranian officials maintain they are serious about the talks.
But Tehran has been accused of backsliding on progress made earlier this year and playing for time.
Blinken’s remarks came after Biden said the US was preparing “additional measures” against Iran. Blinken also echoed a statement by European countries involved in the talks.
“Time is running out, and Iran is still not engaged in real negotiations,” he said. “Unless there’s swift progress ... the Iran nuclear agreement will become an empty shell.”
The 2015 agreement has been disintegrating since Trump pulled out. The deal ensured sanctions relief for Iran in return for tight curbs on its nuclear program, which was placed under extensive UN monitoring. Trump went on to reintroduce sanctions, prompting Tehran to start disregarding the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities.
Recent rounds of talks are deadlocked on which sanctions Washington is prepared to lift, and guarantees demanded by Iran to protect against the prospect of a future US withdrawal.
Iran insists on the immediate removal of all sanctions in a verifiable process. The US has said it would remove curbs “inconsistent” with the nuclear agreement if Iran resumed compliance with the deal, implying it would leave in place others such as those imposed under terrorism or human rights measures.
Iran also seeks guarantees that “no US administration” will renege on the pact again, but Biden cannot promise this because the nuclear deal is a nonbinding political understanding, not a legally binding treaty.
“How can we trust Americans again? What if they ditch the deal again? Therefore the party that violated the deal should provide guarantees that it will never happen again,” a senior Iranian official said on Tuesday.
“This is their problem, not ours to solve. They can find a solution and give us guarantees.”