This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said hundreds of U.S. sanctions on Tehran likely would remain in place even if Iran and the United States return to compliance with the nuclear deal with world powers.
Blinken was asked on June 8 during a hearing before a U.S. Senate committee about progress on indirect talks with Iran aimed at returning the United States to the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and bringing Iran back into compliance with it.
He said he would anticipate some sanctions would remain in place, including ones imposed by the Trump administration.
“If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain unless and until Iran’s behavior changes,” Blinken told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Discussions on reviving the deal are taking place in Vienna, brokered by European diplomats. The fifth round of talks ended on June 2 and diplomats have said a sixth may begin on June 10.
Negotiators from Britain, France, and Germany, known as the E3, and the other major powers that struck the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran have been meeting in working groups in the Austrian capital since early April, with the EU team overseeing indirect talks between Iran and the United States.
Iran has insisted on a removal of all sanctions, while the Biden administration has said that some will remain if they were imposed over concerns such as human rights and Iran’s support for extremist movements.
Blinken sounded pessimistic about progress at the talks, telling lawmakers on June 7 that it remains “unclear whether Iran is willing and prepared to do what it needs to do come back into compliance.”
He said if Tehran continues to violate the pact, the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon will shrink to weeks.
The program is “galloping forward,” Blinken said, adding that the longer this goes on, the more the breakout time shrinks.
The JCPOA has been on hold since 2018 when then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the pact and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.
In response, Tehran steadily has overstepped the agreement’s limits on its nuclear program designed to make it harder for the Islamic republic to develop an atomic bomb — an ambition Tehran denies.
The negotiators are under pressure to reach a renewal of the pact before Iran’s June 18 presidential election, which is likely to usher in a hard-line president.
An Iranian government spokesman said on June 8 that Iran’s policy in the talks will remain unchanged after the election because the issue is decided by its highest leadership.
Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei told a weekly news conference that Iran’s nuclear policy, set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is not linked to internal developments and that the new government would maintain the same policies as those followed in the Vienna talks.