US top diplomat defends ongoing Iran nuclear talks from congressional criticism

Return to JCPOA 'best way to address the nuclear challenge posed by Iran,' says Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

US top diplomat defends ongoing Iran nuclear talks from congressional criticism

Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought to defend on Tuesday ongoing negotiations with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal as talks face an apparent impasse.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the top diplomat emphasized that former US President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure campaign" and decision to unilaterally leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018 "whatever the intent, did not produce results." It further worsened the nuclear dilemma with Iran, he maintained.

"We continue to believe that getting back into compliance with the agreement would be the best way to address the nuclear challenge posed by Iran, and to make sure that an Iran that is already acting with incredible aggression doesn’t have a nuclear weapon or the ability to produce one on short notice," Blinken said.

Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and Jim Risch, the panel's top Republican, maintained, however, that the JCPOA does not address other Iranian actions the US considers to be "destabilizing" in the region, including its support for militant proxy groups and ongoing development of a ballistic missile program.

It further does not take into account advances Iran made following Trump's decision to impose biting economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

In retaliation for the former president's decision, Tehran stepped back from its commitments under the 2015 agreement, including its agreed upon curbs to the amount of fissile material Tehran is allowed to possess, and its nuclear enrichment limits.

Iran and the US have been engaged in talks for over a year aimed at securing a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, but the negotiations have stalled in recent weeks despite progress towards a deal.

Blinken said Iran's other "malicious" activities in the region would be made "even worse if they had a nuclear weapon, or the ability to get one on short notice."

"It would encourage them to act with greater impunity," he said.

Still, Risch was unswayed, saying "no agreement is better than a bad agreement."

"I would urge you to move on. They've given us every indication that that would be appropriate for us to do, and I would encourage you to do that," he said.