Washington: US President Joe Biden warned Thursday that the United States was preparing “additional measures” against Iran as expectations grow that talks on halting Tehran’s nuclear program are set for failure.
“The president has asked his team to be prepared in the event that diplomacy fails and we must turn to other options,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said as troubled negotiations with Iran resumed in Vienna.
“We will have no choice but to take additional measures,” she added.
At the Pentagon, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz, and both sides said they would expand cooperation in the face of the Iranian “threat.”
“I’m deeply concerned about the Iranian government’s nuclear actions in recent months, both its continued provocations and its lack of constructive diplomatic engagement,” said Austin.
International diplomats restarted the talks on Iran’s nuclear programme Thursday for what the chair of the negotiations called a “difficult endeavour” to revive the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers, which Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump summarily withdrew from.
Lack of progress
The latest round of talks began last week and were paused on December 3 with Western participants accusing Iran of going back on progress made earlier this year.
The heads of delegations from the parties to the 2015 deal - Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia - were present at the talks, which began at the Palais Coburg luxury hotel and lasted a little more than an hour.
A US delegation plans to take part in the talks indirectly in the coming days.
“Delegations... have come with a renewed sense of purpose to work hard,” Enrique Mora, the EU official chairing the talks, said after Thursday’s meeting.
Bilateral meetings as well as expert working groups are expected to continue this week.
Mora admitted that the negotiations were “a very difficult endeavour”, adding: “There are still different positions that we have to marry.”
Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov told the TASS agency that Thursday’s talks had “removed a number of misunderstandings that had created some tension,” but did not elaborate.
The current round of talks is the seventh since they started in April.
In June, Iran suspended them following the election of ultraconservative President Hassan Rouhani and they were only restarted on November 29.
For their part Iranian officials have insisted they are “serious about the talks.”
“The fact that the two sides are continuing to talk indicates that they want to narrow the gaps,” said Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri.
But the sense in Washington, as Biden indicated, is that the new government in Iran is not committed to reaching an agreement.
Meanwhile, experts say, Iran has continued to develop its program, which analysts say aims ultimately at building a nuclear weapon.
“All of us seek ... is to ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday.
“Iran’s escalations of its nuclear activities, the intransigence that it has shown including most recently in Vienna last week, will put to the test whether diplomacy can be able to achieve that mutual return to compliance,” Price said.
If the talks do not bear fruit, he added, Washington is discussing its option with close allies, “and that includes with the Israelis.”
Iranian officials have in recent days condemned the “negative” reaction of Western states after last week’s meetings, saying that “such media campaigns are not constructive.”
The 2015 deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has eroded ever since Trump pulled out in 2018, alleging Iran had violated it.
Trump re-introduced sanctions, prompting Tehran to disregard the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities the following year.
Biden wants the US to return to the deal, but for its part Iran wants Washington to lift a raft of sanctions, and is asking as well for guarantees to protect against a future US withdrawal.