Iran is months, or possibly even weeks, from being able to build a nuclear weapon, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his first televised interview since he took office.
In an interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, Blinken said Iran was months away from being a nuclear threat.
“It is a problem that could get more acute because if Iran continues to lift some of the restrains imposed by the agreement, that could get down to a matter weeks,” he said.
“The bottom line is they are getting closer to the point where they would either be a threshold nuclear power - or actually a nuclear power.”
After Donald Trump pulled the US from the nuclear accord with Iran and imposed crippling sanctions in 2018 as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign, Tehran began enriching uranium to levels that exceed allowed limits.
Iran said the US has to remove key economic sanctions and return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal before any talks on resetting Tehran’s atomic program.
US President Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the deal if Iran returns to complying with it.
The US “cannot return to the nuclear accord with one signature in the way that they left with one,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a press conference in Tehran on Monday.
The statement is a clear signal to the Biden administration that Iran expects relief from sanctions, and the full restoration of the United Nations resolution that underpins the deal before it starts scaling back its nuclear activities. It also illustrates the major gulf between the longtime rivals.
Last week, Blinken said Iran needs to act first and any US return to the accord may take a while.
“We’re waiting for US action to effectively undo sanctions, give us access to our own funds, permit easy oil exports and allow the transfer of oil revenue, shipping and insurance,” Khatibzadeh told reporters, referring to billions of dollars of payments for oil exports that are trapped overseas because of banking sanctions.
Khatibzadeh said there won’t be any direct bilateral talks with the US until it first returns to the original bloc of six powers that brokered the accord. Washington can then join discussions over Iran’s nuclear work but within the existing mechanism that’s outlined within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The stalemate raises questions over whether the crisis can be resolved before the Islamic Republic hits a deadline later this month to secure sanctions removal, or else end voluntary international nuclear inspections. Moderates in Iran are also hoping for a boost from the lifting of some sanctions ahead of presidential elections set for June.