Iran is closer than it has previously been to having the ability to produce material needed for a nuclear weapon, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Monday.
The top US diplomat criticized the decision by former President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, as the reason for Tehran’s increased capabilities to manufacture a nuclear weapon within three to four months.
“The agreement had pushed that [ability to make a nuclear weapon] past a year. According to public reports, now it’s down to three or four months and heading in the wrong direction,” Blinken said in one of his public interviews since becoming the secretary of state for President Joe Biden.
As for a new Iran deal, Blinken doubled down on repeated comments made by him and other Biden administration officials. “If Iran returns to compliance with its obligations under the nuclear agreement, we would do the same thing, and then we would work with our allies and partners to try to build a longer and stronger agreement,” Blinken said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken tells CNN's @WolfBlitzer that Iran is closer than it has been to having the capacity to produce the raw material for a nuclear weapon.— The Situation Room (@CNNSitRoom) February 8, 2021
"If Iran returns to compliance with its obligations under the nuclear agreement, we will do the same thing." pic.twitter.com/Bq5Qyum0c3
He added that Washington would also bring in some of “these other issues,” such as Iran’s ballistic missile programs and its proxies around the region.
But, Blinken said, the problem now was that Iran had lifted one restraint after another that he claimed were being held “in-check” by the JCPOA.
“We got out of the agreement and Iran started to lift the various restraints in the agreement. And the result is, they are closer than they’ve been to having the capacity on short order to produce material for a nuclear weapon.”
Despite reports suggesting the US is considering different ways of easing economic pressure and sanctions on Iran to lure them back to the negotiating table, Blinken suggested that Iran needed to come back into compliance first.
Saudi Arabia and the Yemen war
Blinken reiterated that Washington was “deeply committed” to the defense of Saudi Arabia and “aggression directed at it from the Houthis.”
Asked if Biden was looking to “substantially change” the US-Saudi relationship, Blinken did not directly answer and spoke about the war in the Yemen.
“Even as we are getting out of supporting the military campaign, we are leaning into playing a leading role and an active role in the diplomacy to try to actually end the war,” he said.