WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that Iran has not given indications that it’s willing to return to compliance of the 2015 nuclear agreement.
In a wide-ranging hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken said that the sides are “not even at the stage of returning to compliance for compliance” with the 2015 nuclear agreement.
“We don’t know if that’s actually going to happen,” Blinken emphasized. “We’ve been engaged in indirect conversations for the last couple of months and it remains unclear whether Iran is willing and prepared to do what it needs to do to come back into compliance.”
“What we do know, unfortunately, is that meanwhile [Iran’s nuclear] program is galloping forward,” he said. “It has lifted restraints imposed on it by the agreement including the amount of enriched material that it has; material that’s now, in some cases, enriched up to 20% and even a small amount to 60%. It has started to deploy some more advanced centrifuges.”
He went on to say that “the longer this goes on, the more their breakout time gets down.” The agreement had pushed it to a year or more, Blinken said, “it’s now down – by published reports – to a few months at best. And if this continues, it will get down to a matter of weeks, exactly what we sought to avoid and what the agreement stopped.”
“We have a real incentive if we can to at least put that back in the box, and then to use it as a platform, both to look at whether the agreement itself can be lengthened and if necessary, strengthened, and also to capture these other issues. We’re going to be in a much better place with our allies, with our partners who wanted to stick with the agreement for all this time to do exactly that, to insist that Iran engage on these other issues. And there will be a united front to hold them to account.”
Blinken stressed that the US is committed to the Iron Dome’s replenishment. “The Israeli defense minister was in Washington just this past week,” he said. “We are working with the Israelis to fully understand their needs and working with Congress, most importantly, to make sure that we can secure the funding for that replenishment. This is under very active review and we look forward to working with [Congress] to make sure that that happens.”
Asked whether the Biden administration recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Blinken said: “as a practical matter, Israel has control of the Golan Heights, irrespective of its legal status, and that will have to remain unless and until things get to a point where Syria and everything operating out from Syria no longer poses a threat to Israel, and we are not anywhere near that.”
Asked about Operation Guardian of the Walls, Blinken said that it would be unacceptable “for any country to have rockets rain down on it indiscriminately targeting civilians and not do something about it.”
“We strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself; to defend people against these indiscriminate rocket attacks,” he said. “As a democracy, Israel also has an extra burden to do everything it possibly can to avoid civilian casualties.”
“Hamas is engaged in terrorism, period,” he added. “And the idea that any country could accept and for that matter the world could accept a terrorist organization, which is vowed in its own charter to destroy Israel, to indiscriminately launch rockets against Israeli civilians; that anyone finds that acceptable or does not understand that it constitutes terrorism is hard to fathom. And Israel has the right to defend itself against these attacks. And we stood strongly for that proposition.”
Earlier on Monday, Blinken was interviewed by Mike Allen of Axios on HBO Max and was asked about the possibility that Naftali Bennett would be Israel’s next Prime Minister.
“I’m not doing politics, I’m going to focus on the policy, so we’ll see,” he said. “We will work, as we always have, with whatever the Israeli government is.”
Asked about Bennett’s opposition to the two-state solution, Blinken told Axios: “Our President’s been very clear about this. We see a two-state solution as the best and probably only means to ensure that, going forward, Israel remains not only a secure but a Jewish and democratic state, and the Palestinians have the state to which they’re entitled. But the conditions right now are not – are not there.”
“We’ve just come off of the violence in Gaza and elsewhere,” he noted. “We’re working very hard not only to make sure that the ceasefire stays in place, but to start to deal with the humanitarian situation in Gaza. And over time, if we can build a little bit more hope, a little bit more trust, a little bit more confidence, maybe then the conditions are in place to reengage on two states.”
Blinken also said that the administration is “moving forward expeditiously” with the appointment of a special envoy to combat antisemitism. “I hope that’s before the Senate very, very soon,”