As Tehran and world powers seeking to revive the moribund 2015 nuclear deal resumed talks in Vienna, the United States warned that it would take "additional measures" to block Iran's ability to earn revenue if diplomacy over the country's nuclear program fails. "Given the ongoing advances in Iran's nuclear program, [President Joe Biden] has asked his team to be prepared in the event that diplomacy fails and we must turn to other options," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on December 9.
"If diplomacy cannot get on track soon and if Iran's nuclear program continues to accelerate, then we will have no choice but to take additional measures to further restrict Iran's revenue-producing sectors."
A seventh round of talks began last week between the remaining signatories — Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China -- after a five-month break caused by a new hard-line government assuming power in Tehran.
The United States is participating indirectly because it withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.
European diplomats urged Tehran to come back with “realistic proposals” after the Iranian delegation made numerous new demands last week that U.S. and European negotiators rejected.
EU diplomat Enrique Mora, who is chairing the Vienna talks, said he had observed “a renewed sense of purpose” by the parties to bring the accord back to life.
Related: The Biggest Threats To Oil Have Already Been Priced In “Whether that will be confirmed and endorsed by negotiations on the details, we will see in the coming days,” Mora told reporters.
According to U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, it will take a few days to judge whether Iran is showing flexibility in the talks.
Asked if Iran might be playing for time in the talks and seeking to exploit U.S. weakness, he told reporters: "I can assure you that, if the Iranian regime suspects the United States of weakness, they will be sorely surprised."
Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran's top negotiator, said Tehran was “serious about reaching an agreement if the ground is paved.”
“The fact that all sides want the talks to continue shows that all parties want to narrow the gaps," he told reporters.
The United States has repeatedly cautioned Iran against drawing out negotiations while continuing to advance its nuclear program, warning that Washington will pursue other options if diplomacy fails.
The accord sealed in Vienna in 2015, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was meant to curb Iran's nuclear program in return for loosened economic sanctions.
Following the U.S. decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, Tehran gradually ramped up its nuclear program in response to the reimposition of sanctions and suspected Israeli attacks on its nuclear facilities and scientists. Iran has also restricted monitors from the UN nuclear watchdog from accessing its nuclear installations.
The main hurdles in negotiations center on the technical aspects of bringing Iran back into compliance with its nuclear commitments and the timing and extent of sanctions relief. Iran is demanding that all U.S. sanctions be lifted and wants guarantees that a future U.S. administration won’t trash the deal.
Washington plans to send a delegation led by Robert Malley, the special U.S. envoy for Iran, to Vienna over the weekend.
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