Biden’s new Iranian dilemma

The Biden administration grapples with a new dilemma as nuclear negotiations with Iran remain frozen: would increased pressure on Iran help push the Iranians back towards the 2015 deal, or lead to the Iran to step up its nuclear program, US and Israeli officials told Axios.

Why is this important: Iran’s nuclear program has made significant strides in recent months that will be difficult to reverse – and which could potentially undermine the benefits of the 2015 deal bailout, especially if a deal is not reached soon.

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Driving the news: Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during their White House meeting on Tuesday that Israel feared Iran could become a “nuclear threshold state.”

  • Lapid told Sullivan that given the current stalemate, an alternative plan to the nuclear deal was needed.

In the wings: This dilemma was at the center of the latest round of US-Israel strategic talks over Iran’s nuclear program last week, Israeli officials told Axios.

  • The Israeli side pushed the US team, led by Sullivan, to put more pressure on Iran through additional sanctions, sabotage operations against the nuclear program and warnings that a military option could be on the table if Iran continues its nuclear provocations, Israeli officials mentioned.

  • The US side agreed on the need to counter Iran’s latest actions, but said it feared such measures would generate an Iranian reaction. The sabotage attempts that damaged Iran’s forward centrifuge facility, which Iran attributed to Israel, led the Iranians to step up their program and provided a pretext to limit access by Iranian inspectors. UN, sources briefed on the talks said.

  • The Israelis then asked the American side if it has a deadline to end the current limbo and take action against Iran, Israeli officials told Axios.

  • The US side said it hoped that increasing pressure on Iran from Russia and Iran’s struggling economy could bring the Iranians back to the nuclear deal.

  • One of the decisions of the talks was to form joint task forces to assess Iran’s economy, identify pressure points and also identify measures against Iran that could be counterproductive.

What they say : An Israeli official said that the American dilemma is real and that Israel understands it. “We know they’re looking for the right balance but we want to know how long it’s going to take,” he said.

  • A senior US official told Axios: “Given the pressure Iran is under, we want to see which measures will be effective and which measures may be counterproductive. Thus, we are engaged in detailed strategic conversations with our partners and allies on the measures to be taken. will really bring us closer to our common goal of ensuring that Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon. “

  • But, US envoy to Iran Rob Malley gave a more pessimistic assessment of the state of nuclear talks during a virtual event today at the Carnegie Endowment.

  • Malley has said every day he is sending signals to the United States that Iran’s new government does not want to return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • “We must prepare for a world where Iran will not have constraints on its nuclear program and we must consider options to deal with it. This is what we are doing while we hope they return to the deal, ”said Malley.

And after: Malley said he will visit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in the coming days to discuss the Iran issue.

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