Washington’s envoy to Iran said Tehran is running out of time to restore the nuclear deal.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a pledge to allies in the Middle East to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons as world powers prepare to return to negotiations in Vienna.
“We remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue. But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all the options necessary to keep the United States secure,” said Austin during the Manama Dialogue held in Bahrain on Saturday.
The defence chief’s comment come a week ahead of the seventh round of multilateral negotiations in Vienna, scheduled to take place on 29 November, following months of delay.
Austin said that while the US and its partners are entering the talks “in good faith”, Iran’s actions in recent months “have not been encouraging”, referring to Tehran’s expansion of its nuclear programme.
Last week, the US and the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] called for the restoration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA], accusing Iran of causing “a nuclear crisis”.
“If Iran comes back with constructive positions, we still think we can quickly resolve our lingering differences to make a mutual return to the JCPOA possible,” added Austin, urging the Islamic Republic to do its part in reducing violence and conflict.
As a strategic US ally and top regional mediator, Qatar has previously said it will spare no efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear accord, calling on all sides to resume negotiations.
During the Qatar-US Strategic dialogue in Washington earlier this month, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani stressed that having an unstable region does not serve anyone’s interest – whether in the GCC or US – and that he does not want to witness a “nuclear race”.
Time running out
Meanwhile, US envoy for Iran Robert Malley said over the weekend that Tehran was running out of time to return to the JCPOA as it continued to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium.
“The time will come if Iran continues at this pace with the advancements they’ve made, [it] will make it impossible even if we were going to go back to the JCPOA to recapture the benefits,” said Malley during the Manama Dialogue on Friday.
Malley previously held “constructive” phone calls with Russia and China during which the three countries agreed on the importance of the return to full compliance with the historic accord.
Indirect US-Iran talks kicked off in Vienna in April this year to revive the 2015 nuclear deal but adjourned following the sixth round in June. The talks were put on hold as Iran’s elections took place, which saw the victory of Raisi, who is considered by analysts as a “hardliner”.
When former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, he imposed stifling economic sanctions on Iran in a bid to apply what his administration described as “maximum pressure” on Tehran. In turn, Iran stopped abiding by its nuclear commitment by enriching uranium at its highest level.
Iranian officials stressed that the upcoming round of talks will be focused on the lifting of US sanctions on Tehran and not the redrawing of terms from the previous 2018 deal.