WASHINGTON – “We’re going to know very soon whether or not it is possible for the Iranians to return to compliance with the nuclear deal on terms that we and the international community can accept,” Brett McGurk, coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told the White House National Security Council.
Speaking at a virtual event hosted by Aaron David Miller at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the envoy addressed the talks with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other issues.
“The last administration’s decision to get out of the JCPOA was a strategic mistake and it led to an unshackled Iranian nuclear program,” said McGurk.
He said that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action placed Iran’s nuclear program in a box through 2031.
“But where we are right now, given the advances of Iran’s nuclear program... we’re now in the verge of a nuclear crisis, because Iran’s program has advanced. Even as it has faced tremendous setbacks, it continues to advance and it’s getting to the point where the breakout time, the time in which it would have enough fissile material to be able to divert material for a weapons program and we could not detect it, we’re starting to approach that window,” said McGurk.
“This is an extremely serious situation,” he noted. “At the same time, as Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken and others have said repeatedly, these talks will have a culmination point and we’re actually reaching that culmination point pretty soon.
“We’re basically now in the negotiations back to where we were at the end of last summer, which means there’s a chance for a deal, and there’s also a pretty good chance there’s not going to be a deal,” he said. “And we are prepared for either scenario. If there’s no deal we’re very prepared for that scenario.”
Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, McGurk said the administration’s top priority is to prevent another conflict.
“We support the two-state solution. We’re trying to create a political horizon, and there’s a new dialogue ongoing between, individuals [from the] Bennett government: ministers Gantz and Lapid with the Palestinian Authority, trying to see what’s there to create a foundation while also being realistic,” he said.
“We’re not going to set expectations that are unlikely to be met,” McGurk emphasized. “This is incredibly complex, it is interwoven with multiple interests. And I think as Americans, we have to approach it with some humility and not coming in with some master plan but working from the bottom up to try to create the conditions so that conflict can’t break out. And over time, I begin to establish an important political horizon, which has to be set. So it’s a daily part of our work and trying to reduce the risk of conflict is a top-tier priority. In terms of an actual peace process, I just don’t think we’re there.”