Blinken warns Iran: Time is running out for a return to the nuclear deal

Iran’s president has so far remained defiant in the face of mounting pressure from the West to return to negotiations.

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

Time is running out for Iran to return to the nuclear deal, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Wednesday, amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Speaking in Germany, Blinken told reporters: “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 (nuclear deal) does not reproduce the benefits that agreement achieved.”

Blinken’s comments came in response to two reports released Tuesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, informing member states there has been no progress on two central issues: a year-long investigation into traces of uranium found at undeclared sites, and gaining access to equipment monitoring Iran’s enrichment process to swap out memory cards, so that it can keep continuous oversight.

“The Agency’s confidence that it can maintain continuity of knowledge is declining over time and has now significantly further declined,” one of the two reports said, according to Reuters, adding that the agency needs to access the equipment every three months.

“This confidence will continue to decline unless the situation is immediately rectified by Iran.”

Speaking alongside Blinken, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commented: “We find ourselves at a moment of discussing with all our partners in the agreement how to react to this.”

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

However, the IAEA’s reports mean that the United States and its European allies must now decide whether to push for a resolution pressuring Iran to yield, when they convene at next week’s meeting of the 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors.

Since April, indirect negotiations between Iran and the U.S. for a return to the Iran nuclear deal, which was abandoned by both parties in 2018, have been taking place in Vienna. But a sixth round of talks was postponed in June to allow for elections to take place in Iran, and they have not resumed since.

With Iran pressing ahead with uranium enrichment up to weapons grade – which it insists is for peaceful purposes – Western nations are keen to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table. But Iran has said that it may delay for another two to three months.

Commenting on the IAEA reports during a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said: “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,” according to Iranian state media.

In May, the IAEA reported that Iran was enriching uranium up to 60% fissile purity, up from 20% in April. In mid-August, the IAEA informed member states that Iran is now using a second cascade for that purpose, effectively doubling the rate of production.

The 2015 nuclear deal capped enrichment at 3.67%, a rate suitable for energy purposes. Weapons grade uranium is enriched to 90%.