Blinken: US cut off nuclear talks because Iran wasn’t serious

Diplomats described Iran’s proposals as “maximalist” and “turning back the clock” on previous agreements.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

The United States cut off nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna on Friday, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Tehran wasn’t serious about returning to compliance with the original 2015 agreement. Talks will reconvene next week after the negotiators consult with their respective governments.

The talks were called off after Iran negotiators presented two draft proposals that diplomats described as “maximalist” and “turned back the clock” on previous negotiations.

“Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance, which is why we ended this round of talks in Vienna,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Reuters Next Conference.

“If the path to a return to compliance with the agreement turns out to be a dead-end, we will pursue other options,” Blinken added, without elaborating.

The Secretary of State said the U.S. would consult with its allies — including Israel — on next steps.

In the first Iranian draft proposal, Iran demanded the U.S. unfreeze $10 billion in frozen assets as goodwill gesture. According to a diplomatic source cited by Israel’s Walla News, the second proposal backtracked on previously agreed language rolling back aspects of Iran’s nuclear program.

The pause in talks appears to be a victory for Israel. In a phone call to Blinken on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett insisted that Iran was engaging in “nuclear blackmail” by continuing to enrich uranium at its Fordo facility. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was also in Europe to build a coalition of nations to oppose Iran’s nuclear initiative.

Those efforts to bear fruit, as French President Emmanuel Macron said Israel should be part of the negotiations.

“I think everyone is conscious of the fact that not talking, not trying to find a new framework on both nuclear and regional issues, weakens everybody and is a factor in increasing confliction,” Macron said on Friday.

“It is also important to reengage a slightly broader dynamic and involve regional powers as well,” he added. “It is difficult to reach an agreement if the Gulf states, Israel and all those whose security is directly affected are not involved.”

The controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. It was agreed upon between Iran and the world powers in 2015. Former president Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018. Negotiating a return to the nuclear agreement is a key foreign policy goal of the Biden administration.

Israel, the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia oppose an American return to the JCPOA agreement.

Since the deal’s collapse, Iran started enriching small amounts of uranium up to 60% purity; weapons-grade uranium calls for levels of 90%. Iran also spins advanced centrifuges barred by the accord, and its uranium stockpile now far exceeds the limits set out in the deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the Islamic republic’s nuclear program, reported Wednesday that Iran has taken steps to enrich uranium up to 20% purity at an underground nuclear facility in Fordow where all enrichment activist was supposed to cease.

Associated Press contributed to this report.