US official: Iran backtracked on all compromises; we’re preparing for no deal

Official warns more sanctions likely if Iran kills negotiations, says China and Russia were also taken aback; Mossad chief heads to Washington for talks as nuclear crisis deepens

By AFP and JACOB MAGID4 December 2021, 9:52 pmUpdated at 1:27 am  

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021 (Joe Klamar/AFP)

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021 (Joe Klamar/AFP)

A US official said Saturday that Iran had backed away from all its previous compromises on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal and that the US would not allow Iran to “slow walk” the international negotiations while at the same time ramping up its atomic activities.

The warning came a day after Washington hit out at Iran, saying talks with world powers on a return to the 2015 nuclear accord had stalled because Tehran “does not seem to be serious.”

“We can’t accept a situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow walks its nuclear diplomacy,” said a senior US administration official — echoing a recent warning by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Speaking to reporters after returning from the Austrian capital, the official said Washington was not yet planning to walk away from the indirect talks that it resumed with Tehran last week in Vienna, but hoped Iran would return “with a serious attitude.”

In this week’s talks, said the official, Iran backtracked on all the compromises it had made in months of previous talks on reviving the accord, while retaining the compromises made by others and seeking more.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Iran came to Vienna “with proposals that walked back anything – any of the compromises Iran had floated here in the six rounds of talks, pocket all of the compromises that others, and the US in particular, had made, and then asked for more”, the senior official was quoted saying by Reuters.

He said it was not clear when the talks would resume, and that Washington was “preparing for a world in which there is no return to the JCPOA,” a reference to the deal’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Russia and China “also were quite taken aback by the degree to which Iran had walked back its own compromises and then doubled down on the requests that it (made),” he said. “They do share a sense of disappointment, to put it diplomatically.”

He said more sanctions would likely come if Washington concludes that Iran had killed the negotiations.

In Vienna “Iran did not show the posture of a country that is seriously thinking of a rapid return” to the accord aimed at putting curbs on its nuclear program, said the official.The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) revival talks, in Vienna on November 29, 2021. (VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)

He spoke as the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency prepared to head to Washington in the coming days for talks with top administration officials.

The Haaretz newspaper reported that David Barnea will seek to convince the US leadership not to seek an interim deal with Iran that would not see Tehran return to full compliance with the deal.

According to Channel 12, Barnea plans to present the Americans with new information on Iran’s program.

The seventh round of nuclear talks ended Friday after five days in Vienna, with delegations returning to their national capitals and expected to go back to Austria next week.

Iran’s lead negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said the talks were paused “since the opposite side needed to consult with their capitals to provide a documented and reasonable response to these [Iranian] proposals.” He said the negotiations would resume in the middle of next week.

Blinken said Friday that the negotiations were halted because “Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance.”

And European diplomats expressed “disappointment and concern” after Iran submitted two draft proposals that appeared to undo months of dialogue.

Iran had paused the talks in June following the election of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi.In this photo released by the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a live interview in Tehran, Iran, broadcast on state-run TV, on Monday, October 18, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The official argued Saturday that the US had shown patience in allowing a five-month break in the process, but that during that time the Iranians were “continuing to accelerate their nuclear program in particularly provocative ways.”

When Tehran finally returned to the table on Monday, he said, it was “with proposals that walked back any of the compromises that Iran had floated during the six rounds of talks.”

He accused Iran of seeking to “pocket all of the compromises that others — the US in particular — had made and then ask for more.”

The official said he believed countries that are close to Iran were also vexed by Tehran’s positions at the recent talks.

“I think we’re seeing very clearly that countries around the world are now more and more aware of the fact that Iran is taking a position which is inconsistent with their stated goals of a return to the JCPOA and their accelerated nuclear program is Exhibit A in that,” he said.The flag of Iran waves in front of the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021 (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)

The official said it was not yet known when the European Union coordinator would reconvene the parties, but that the date “matters far less to us than whether Iran will come back with a serious attitude, prepared to negotiate seriously. ”

At this stage, he said the US will pursue its efforts at diplomacy — but reasserted it has “other tools” at its disposal should negotiations fail.

He added: “The time that the JCPOA has for still remaining a viable deal is inversely proportional to the speed with which Iran advances its nuclear program. If they choose to accelerate the nuclear program as they seem to have done of late, then there’d be less time left for the JCPOA to be resurrected.”

The landmark 2015 nuclear accord — initially agreed between Britain, China, France, Germany Iran, Russia and the US — began unraveling in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump pulled out and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to start exceeding limits on its nuclear program the following year.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to re-enter the deal, and the US has been participating in this week’s talks indirectly.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Asked by The Times of Israel whether a rift with Israel was growing amid Jerusalem’s fierce opposition to the ongoing nuclear talks, the senior State Department official was dismissive.

“We may have some differences. That’s natural…We understand that we’re situated differently and sometimes have different ways of approaching it, but our goal is the same… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” the official said.

“I think this comes at an interesting time where we’re seeing… soul searching, or interesting reflections in Israel by former senior officials about the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and what it has meant,” the official continued, referencing a recent interview the former head of the Iran research division of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate gave to The Times of Israel in which he called Israel’s Iran policy of recent years “a failure.”

“What it has meant is it has opened the door for an unconstrained, uncontrolled Iranian nuclear program, which obviously was not the case while the US and Iran were both in compliance with the deal,” the official added.

Asked whether the US feels like it needs to calm the Israelis so they don’t take matters in their own hands against Iran, the senior State Department official said, “We don’t view our job as trying to calm Israel down…Israel as a sovereign country will make its own decisions.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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