The Biden administration thinks it has until the end of the month to salvage the Iran nuclear deal

“This session is crucial,” a senior administration official said, referring to the high-level talks that have resumed in Vienna. “We are really in the very last straight line.”

“Nothing with Iran is ever a straight line, but we are coming to a watershed moment,” a second administration official said.

The deal, which was scrapped by the Trump administration in 2018, imposes verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program that were intended to prevent the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Iran has increasingly broken its commitments under the deal and many believe it would be able to rapidly develop nuclear weapons and pose a serious threat to security and stability in the Middle East if it does. there was not a breakthrough in Vienna.

A failure to salvage the deal would be a blow to President Joe Biden, who had campaigned to save it, and would come as his foreign policy decisions come under increasing scrutiny following a deeply flawed withdrawal from Afghanistan and that his administration’s efforts to deter a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine continue.

Biden administration officials engaged in indirect talks with Iranian officials for about 10 months as Iran continued to advance its nuclear program.

Talks in Vienna resumed this week after the United States left the final round – which lasted about a month – saying progress had been made. But the officials also said Iran must make political decisions if a deal is to be struck.

“We have made progress in narrowing the list of differences down to just key priorities on all sides. And that is why now is the time to make political decisions,” they said.

Recently, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken made it clear that time is running out and stressed that there are only a few weeks left to salvage the deal.

US special envoy to Iran Rob Malley, who is in Vienna this week for the talks, will brief members of Congress on Wednesday in a confidential setting. Earlier this week, Malley spoke with members of Congress and left them feeling that the next few weeks will determine whether the deal lasts or dies, two congressional sources told CNN.

Administration prepares for opposition in Congress

The administration is bracing for opposition from Democrats and Republicans once a decision is made on the way forward. Lawmakers are widely worried about what any deal with Iran might look like and why there is a reason to save the deal if its benefits expire in coming years. The administration initially promised to strike a longer, stronger deal with Iran, but the details of what that would look like remain unclear, as bailing out the deal in place remains the immediate goal.

“I’ve been cautiously optimistic about the initial efforts of the Biden administration,” Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week. “However, a year later, I have yet to hear any setting of ‘longer’ or ‘stronger’ terms or if that is even an achievable prospect.”

Meanwhile, Republicans are threatening efforts to block any deal if it doesn’t go through Congress for approval.

Biden and his national security team are ready to take the heat from both sides of the aisle if they save the deal, as they see it as better than the alternative where they would have to rein in Iran and control its nuclear program. , an approach that has not been successful since the United States left the accord, a senior administration official said.

“Returning to the agreement is the best way to develop it,” the official said.

The Biden administration has said that if the deal falls apart, Iran would face a full-throated response from the United States and its allies, which would include increased economic and diplomatic pressure. But despite everything, their desire is to save the agreement concluded under the Obama administration.

The Biden administration last week reinstated a sanctions waiver that will allow countries to cooperate with Iran on civilian nuclear projects, two senior U.S. officials said Friday, a move that comes at a critical time even though officials from the State Department said it was not a concession to Iran. .

In recent trips to Washington, US allies have stressed that the next few weeks are pivotal for the deal, given Iran’s continued advances in its nuclear program that exceed the limits of the deal.

“Now is the time for Iran to make a decision. There is no time to extend,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday. “Because we look at the situation in Iran and we see that they are making progress with this capacity building to have a nuclear bomb and to be able to use them on missiles and because of that, it is clear that we do not we won’t wait.”

British officials echoed German sentiments.

“The timelines that we are looking at now are so limited that I think Iran has to realize – now is the time to end this. And that dragging on is not really a credible option,” the minister said. British government James Cleverly. reporters in Washington this week after discussing the talks with State Department officials.

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