Only weeks may separate Iran and the nuclear bomb, US warns

“Meanwhile, its programme is galloping forward… it’s now down, by public reports, to a few months at best. And if this continues, it will get down to a matter of weeks.”

Tuesday 08/06/2021
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks as he greets staff members of the US Embassy in the Egyptian capital Cairo on May 26, 2021. (AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks as he greets staff members of the US Embassy in the Egyptian capital Cairo on May 26, 2021. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - Amid uncertainty about serious intent to resume compliance with its 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran continues to shorten the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Monday.

“It remains unclear whether Iran is willing and prepared to do what it needs to do to come back into compliance,” Blinken told lawmakers. “Meanwhile, its programme is galloping forward … The longer this goes on, the more the breakout time gets down … it’s now down, by public reports, to a few months at best. And if this continues, it will get down to a matter of weeks.”

The United States and Iran began indirect talks in Vienna in April to see if both sides might agree to resume compliance with the 2015 accord under which Tehran agreed to restrain its nuclear programme to make it harder to obtain fissile material for a weapon in return for relief from US, EU and UN sanctions.

The fifth round of talks ended on June 2 and diplomats have said a sixth may begin on Thursday, though that was not set in stone. The United States abandoned the agreement in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.

Resuming talks on Thursday would leave only eight days to reach a pact before Iran’s June 18 election, which is likely to usher in a hard-line president. Some delegates say that while a deal is possible by then, it appears increasingly unlikely.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Blinken’s comments on Monday.

“It remains unclear whether (Biden and Blinken) are ready to bury the failed ‘maximum pressure’ policy of Trump … and cease using #EconomicTerrorism as bargaining ‘leverage’,” he tweeted.

Iran “is in compliance” with the nuclear deal, he added, citing the article that allows one side to drop its commitments if the other party fails to abide by the accord.

“Time to change course,” Zarif wrote, without elaborating.