US ‘alarmed’ by Iran’s nuclear progress, deal may ‘be a thing of the past’ – envoy

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The United States and other Western powers are “alarmed” by the advancement of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the Biden administration’s Iran envoy Robert Malley said on Tuesday.

“You’re a lot closer to having fissile material for a bomb,” Malley warned in an NPR interview. “To our knowledge, they have not resumed their weapons program, which would take them to develop the bomb. But of course, like our partners, we are concerned about the progress they have made in the field of enrichment.”

He said Iran now has enough uranium to build a bomb within weeks if it chooses to do so. He added that if that were to happen, the US would know and respond vigorously.

Malley called recent talks in Qatar to resume a nuclear deal similar to the 2015 deal, aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions lifting, as a “wasted opportunity”.

He said Iran “added demands that I think anyone looking at would do [agree] have nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things they have wanted in the past, so clearly [we] and Europeans and others have said, ‘This is not part of these negotiations.’”

“The discussion that really needs to take place now is not so much between us and Iran, although we are prepared for it. It’s between Iran and itself. They have to decide if they’re ready to honor the deal now,” Malley said.

In this photo released by Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Enrique Mora, a top European Union diplomat, second right, attends a meeting with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, third left, March 27, 2022 in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

“Sooner or later they have to make a decision, because at some point the deal will be over.”

Also in Doha for the talks was EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who warned on Tuesday that the window for an agreement to work with the US to bring Iran back into line with the nuclear deal is closing.

“If we want to conclude an agreement, decisions have to be made now. This is still possible, but the policy space to revitalize the JCPOA may soon narrow,” he tweeted.

Former US President Donald Trump severely weakened the pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action when he pulled the US out of it in 2018, prompting Iran to abandon its own compliance.

On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian insisted that a revived nuclear deal with the major powers was achievable even after the unsuccessful round of talks in Doha.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a news conference with the EU’s top diplomat June 25, 2022 at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in the Iranian capital Tehran. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Amir-Abdollahian said he believed the Doha talks had gone “positively” and an agreement could still be reached.

“We are determined to continue negotiations until a realistic agreement is reached,” he said after a phone call with his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who moderated the indirect talks.

“I insist that we make serious efforts to reach a good, solid and lasting agreement,” Amir-Abdollahian added. “A deal is achievable if the United States is realistic.”

The two-day talks, during which EU mediators shuttled between Iranian and US delegations, were intended to restart broader negotiations between Iran and the major powers in Vienna, which have stalled since March.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has “made clear our willingness to rapidly finalize and implement a mutual return agreement for full compliance,” a US State Department spokesman said after the conclusion of talks in Qatar.

“Despite this, Iran has continued to raise issues unrelated to the JCPOA in Doha and appears unwilling to make a fundamental decision on whether to revive or bury the deal.”

The Doha talks came just two weeks before Biden’s first visit as president to the region, with trips to Iran’s enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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