The White House criticizes Trump’s withdrawal from Iran, saying that the prospects for saving the nuclear deal are bleak

“As a result, Iran’s nuclear program is no longer in the box, it no longer has the strongest inspection regime ever negotiated, and it is no longer subject to strict limits on nuclear activity,” Psaki said during a press briefing.

Psaki’s comments come as critics of the original nuclear deal, reached in 2015 but abandoned by Trump in 2018, ramped up their efforts to persuade Biden to stop trying to revive the accord. Some critics of the agreement have called on Biden to prepare for military strikes on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Many criticize his administration for not applying existing sanctions to the regime in Tehran.

The Iran deal lifted several US and international sanctions on Tehran in return for strict limits on its nuclear program. After Trump left the deal, saying it wasn’t strong or broad enough, he reimposed US sanctions and ate new ones, hoping to force Iran back to the negotiating table in what Trump promised would be a better deal. Iran initially adhered to the terms of the deal, as European countries, angry at Trump, sought ways to help their economy, but with that assistance failing to implement, Iran began violating parts of the agreement.

Biden took office vowing to revive the nuclear deal, but since then, Iran has changed its government. It now has a new leadership that is more hawkish than the one that sealed the nuclear deal, and has moved ahead with the nuclear advance. While Iran under the deal would need more than a year to manufacture a bomb, that time frame has now been reduced to nearly a month. (However, Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and not a bomb.)

International talks in Vienna about a return to the Iran nuclear deal, with a five-month break thanks to a change of Iranian leadership, have continued since last spring. Analysts say the discussions, brokered by European officials between Iranian delegates and Biden’s envoys, have yet to bridge some key differences, such as the sequence of steps back toward an agreement.

Tehran wants the United States to lift sanctions first, allowing it to get access to billions of dollars in frozen funds. Washington is reluctant to lift any sanctions until Iran rolls back the progress it has made with its nuclear programme. Biden also wants to start talks about a more robust deal going forward.

So far, discussions are “making progress, but it is unacceptably slow from a US point of view,” said Ali Vaez, a senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. He added that, at this rate, it could be six months before the deal was revived, but that Iran’s nuclear progress in the meantime could render the terms of the deal irrelevant.

Fayez predicted that if there was no significant progress by the end of January, the United States would shift to a more coercive position. This could include tightening or adding sanctions, as well as increasing discussions with US partners in the Middle East about ways to contain Iran.

Critics of the Iran deal in particular criticized the Biden administration for not doing more to prevent China from buying Iranian oil; China is a party to the Iran nuclear deal, but it does not always move sympathetically with the United States on the issue.

If there is enough frustration with the Iranian position, Fayez said, European officials may also decide to allow UN sanctions to be reinstated. This process is designed to avoid a potential Russian or Chinese veto, and while its economic impact on Iran may not be enough to change the clerical regime’s opinion about its course given how bad the Iranian economy is already, it could be a psychological blow to the regime. .

It would also technically mean the end of the Iran nuclear deal, which is officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. However, Fayez said, even if the United States and its partners put more pressure on Iran, they would still likely push for diplomatic discussions underway at the same time.

US officials have not issued an official deadline, but have warned Iran for months that they will not tolerate what they see as its rebellion forever. In December, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken criticized Trump for abandoning the nuclear deal and failing to deliver on his promise of a better deal, calling Trump’s decision “one of the worst decisions made in American foreign policy in the past decade.”

But Blinken also warned Tehran that the time to restore the deal was “very, very, very short”. “What will not last is for Iran to play time at the negotiating table by not engaging in good faith and quickly, while at the same time continuing to build its program,” Blinken said. “This is not a sustainable proposition.”

Psaki touched on Blinken’s point while also highlighting Biden’s led US efforts to rebuild relations with Europe and other countries damaged by Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

“We are keen to move forward on the diplomatic track,” she added.

Some arms control experts agree that the original sin that led to today’s tense situation was Trump’s withdrawal from the deal that international inspectors said Iran supports. But there is also a sense that Biden moved too slowly in the past year to reach out to Iran, its more moderate regime at the time, to begin talks about restoring the nuclear agreement.

However, it’s still worth talking about, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

While President Biden and his team should have moved earlier and faster last year to re-engage with Iran on steps needed to restore mutual compliance with the JCPOA, it is still possible—and necessary—for Iranian and U.S. negotiators to reach an agreement. A win-win arrangement that prevents a major nuclear crisis.

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