US could pull out of Iran nuclear deal if talks stall

Secretary of State John Blinken warned Friday (June 25) that the U.S. could abandon efforts to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal if an interim agreement to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities is not reached.

“We’ll see if we can bridge the differences. The differences are real, but we have to be able to bridge them,” Blinken said at a news conference in Paris after meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Claude Le Drian. “What I want to tell you is that the issue concerning the International Atomic Energy Agency remains a serious concern, and we have communicated that to Iran, and it needs to be – it needs to be resolved.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency previously said a three-month interim monitoring agreement reached Feb. 21 expired on Thursday after being extended for a month. The agency said it was in talks with Tehran about a second extension.

Blinken’s visit to Paris is part of his multi-nation tour of Europe. Earlier Friday, Blinken acknowledged at a news conference in Paris that the U.S. could eventually decide not to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal if that ongoing negotiation in Vienna continues to fail to make progress.

“Yes, there will be a point at which, once that point is reached, it will be very difficult to go back to the standards set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” Blinken said. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against Iran by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

The parties have been negotiating for six weeks, with a sixth round of indirect talks ending on June 20, but major issues remain unresolved.

Underscoring Blinken’s warning, French Foreign Minister Jean-Claude Le Drian told reporters in Paris on Friday that the advancement of the talks depended on Iran.

“Six weeks have passed since the negotiations resumed. Yes there has been some progress, but we will now enter the most difficult phase. It will require some strong and courageous decisions by the Iranian government, but now is the time,” Le Drian said.

Blinken met with French President Emmanuel Macron late Friday.

The chief U.S. diplomat’s last stop before his visit to France was Germany. There, Blinken joined German leaders on Thursday to say the U.S. and Germany are working together to counter the discourse and anti-Semitism that denies the Nazi Holocaust to Jews. The secretary of state said the effort will “ensure that current and future generations understand the Holocaust and learn from it.”

Speaking at the Memorial Garden for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Blinken said Nazi Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism have become, along with homophobia, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination, “a battle cry for those who seek to dismantle our democracies.”

Earlier Thursday, Blinken and Libyan interim Prime Minister Demba held talks in Berlin. The talks came a day after an international conference focused on supporting Libya’s transition to a permanent, stable government.

The meeting Wednesday, hosted by Germany and the United Nations, brought together officials from 17 countries and reinforced support for Libya’s national elections scheduled for late December.

A senior U.S. State Department official told reporters Wednesday that the Libyan elections are important “not only to legitimize a long-term credible Libyan government,” but also to help implement the requirements of an existing agreement to allow all foreign fighters to leave Libya.

Libya has been experiencing political turmoil since a NATO-backed uprising ousted long-ruling leader Gadhafi from power in 2011. Rival governments split sides for years until a cease-fire agreement was reached last October. The deal included a requirement that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mangush said at a news conference after Wednesday’s meeting that progress had been made on the withdrawal of foreign fighters and “hopefully mercenaries from both sides will be withdrawn in the coming days.”

A senior U.S. State Department official told media reporters that achieving that goal is an important step and now “it has to be made operational.”

Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Di Maio will co-chair a meeting in Rome to focus on defeating the Islamic State. In Italy, Blinken will participate in a ministerial meeting to discuss Syria and the country’s humanitarian needs.

Blinken is also scheduled to visit the Vatican. The State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Rick says the trip will include discussions on combating climate change and human trafficking.