Despite Western officials’ claims that time is running out to reach an agreement and President Biden’s July 14 statement that Washington will not “wait forever” for a deal, the United States has still yet to set a deadline for the talks. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed this on July 11, saying, “We have not marked a date on the calendar.”
While State Department Spokesman Ned Price repeatedly emphasized in a July 19 press briefing that “there is a deadline” for the talks, he initially agreed to a reporter’s statement that the deadline “could be tomorrow or it could be five years from now.”
On July 12, France’s new Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna asserted, “The window of opportunity [to reach a deal] will close in a few weeks.”
In a July 19 interview, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that the likelihood that a nuclear deal is revived “diminishes by the day.”
U.S. officials have said since June of 2021 that talks cannot continue indefinitely.
This refusal to set a concrete deadline comes despite the expiration of the July 7 deadline set by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi. On June 9, Grossi said that if Iran does not restore the cameras at its nuclear facilities within three to four weeks, “this would be a fatal blow” to reviving the historic agreement, adding, “I think the window of opportunity is very, very, very small.”
Iranian and U.S. officials continue to put the onus on each other to reach a deal, saying that an agreement is on the table should the other side just accept their proposal. Officials on all sides have said this for months, including European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, who tweeted on March 11 that “a final text is essentially ready and on the table.”
On July 12, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman emphasized that a deal may still be reached, stating, “I think there is a very viable agreement and Iran just has to say, ‘yes.’”
Sherman also acknowledged the benefits of the mass sanctions relief that Tehran would receive in an agreement, saying it would allow Iran to “improve their economy and sell their oil again, and the world needs the oil, so they could get a good price for it.”
On July 21, Ned Price told reporters, “To date, we have not seen any indication that Iran is ready or willing at this stage to return to the JCPOA. As I said before, a deal has been on the table for months now.”
Also on July 21, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, “We do not want to be stung twice on the same spot. In order to enjoy the full economic benefits of the JCPOA, the Americans must accept some commitments and guarantees… We are now at a point where we have a text ready in front of us; we agree with all parties on 95% of its content.”
Amir-Abdollahian previously suggested on July 11 that the “window of diplomacy” for talks remains open due solely to “Iran’s dynamic initiatives.”
Iran continues to rely on pressure tactics, including blatantly disobeying its IAEA safeguards obligations and making well-publicized advancements in uranium enrichment, in attempts to coerce the U.S. to make concessions to reach a deal sooner and in a show of derision at efforts to restrict its nuclear program.
Iran still refuses to turn back on monitoring devices and continues to block inspectors at suspected undeclared nuclear sites. As a result, the IAEA has “limited visibility” of Tehran’s nuclear program, as Grossi recognized on July 22.
Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami said on July 25 that the IAEA cameras at its nuclear facilities will remain turned off until a nuclear agreement is reached.
On July 9, Iran collected for the first time uranium enriched to 20 percent with its advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground, fortified Fordow plant, marking a new stage of substantially more efficient enrichment processes.
Previously, Iran had used only much less productive IR-1 machines to produce 20 percent enriched uranium.
On July 17, an Iranian official toldAl Jazeera, “It’s no secret that we have the technical means to produce a nuclear bomb,” and that although Iran has “not made a decision to build an atomic bomb…within just a few days, we were able to enrich uranium up to 60%, and we can easily produce 90% enriched uranium.” The official added that Iran had conducted drills to strike Israel in the case that “sensitive (Iranian) installations are targeted.”
Also on July 17, Mohammad Javad Larijani, a former senior Iranian diplomat and current advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated that “no one can stop” Iran if it chooses to build a nuclear bomb, adding that Iran’s ability to make a nuclear bomb “is not something that can be eradicated with bombings.”
Price did not directly respond to questions regarding Tehran’s claims that Iran is now a threshold state, noting on July 18, “We know that they have acquired additional fissile material. We know that their breakout time has been reduced significantly. But this President has made a commitment that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.”
In an interview published on July 22, Grossi stated that the “[Iranian] nuclear program… is galloping ahead” and “the technical progress of the Iranian program is steady.”
Grossi’s comments on Iran’s “technical progress” is especially important given that U.S. officials have said since 2021 that negotiations were subject to a “technical clock.” Still, no U.S. official has clarified what level of “technical progress” is necessary for that clock to expire.
Amid an announcement by Sullivan on July 11 that Iran was prepared to provide “up to several hundred” unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Russia to support the Russian brutality against Ukraine, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby dismissed the idea that the weapons transfers should be related to the nuclear negotiations, saying on July 12, “I don’t know that this necessarily has any effect on our efforts to try to get a nuclear deal with Iran.”
During visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia, Biden sought to reassure U.S. partners in the Middle East about America’s commitment to regional security, although he continued to support ongoing indirect nuclear talks with Iran.
In an interview recorded on July 12 and released the following day, Biden confirmed publicly for the first time that the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) would not be lifted even if that meant not reaching a nuclear deal.
In the same interview, Biden also confirmed that he would use military force against Iran to keep Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon “if that was the last resort.
The head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Richard Moore, suggested on July 21 he did not think Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei is interested in reaching a nuclear agreement, saying, “I’m not convinced we’re going to get there… I don’t think the Supreme Leader of Iran wants to cut a deal,” and adding, “The Iranians won’t want to end the talks either, so they could run on for a bit.”