U.S., Israel Say They're Working on Options Should Iran Fail to Return to Nuclear Deal

The United States and Israel said Wednesday they are working on alternative options for dealing with Iran should it not return in good faith to negotiations to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, the Associated Press reported.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that discussions between their countries have begun looking at "other options" should Iran fail to return to the agreement if the U.S. rejoins it.

"Time is running short," Blinken said, reiterating that the window for Iran to return to the agreement is closing soon. He declined again to give a specific end date.

"We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn't change course, and these consultations with our allies and partners are part of it," he said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Middle East-U.S. Conference
The U.S. and Israel said they are discussing other options to deal with Iran should it refuse to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement. United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (R) attends a bilateral meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) at the State Department in Washington, October 13, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Blinken and Lapid did not elaborate on what those options might be, but there are a wide range of non-diplomatic options that could be considered, ranging from stepped-up sanctions to covert or military actions. A Biden administration priority has been to revive the deal and abandoning that goal would be a blow to its foreign policy objectives.

The remarks were a rare acknowledgment by the U.S. that it is looking at what to do in the event diplomacy with Iran fails. Israel has never been a party to the nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018, and its former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a vocal opponent of the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration.

Blinken and Lapid made the remarks at a joint news conference at the State Department with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates at which all three agreed to try to expand on the so-called "Abraham Accords," the Trump-era agreements that normalized relations between Israel and the UAE and other Arab states.

Their comments came as Iran has hinted it's ready to return to indirect negotiations with the U.S. in Vienna but has not committed to a date. Iran has also continued to blow through limits on its nuclear activities that had been constrained by the deal.

"We will look at every option to deal with the challenge posed by Iran," Blinken said. "And we continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective way to do that. But, it takes two to engage in diplomacy, and we have not seen from Iran a willingness to do that at this point."

Lapid was blunter, raising anew Israel's warnings that it will act, with military force if necessary, to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

"There are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil," he said. "If a terror regime is going to acquire a nuclear weapon we must act. We must make clear that the civilized world won't allow it. If the Iranians don't believe the world is serious about stopping them, they will race to the bomb."

Lapid met on Tuesday in Washington with Vice President Kamala Harris as well as Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan to convey Israel's concerns about the U.S. rejoining the nuclear deal and restoring sanctions relief.

Those concerns appear to have struck a chord within the administration, which is loathe to appear less than supportive of Israel. Before Blinken and Lapid spoke, the administration's special envoy for Iran negotiations, Robert Malley, made similar comments about exploring paths beyond diplomacy with Iran.

"We have to prepare for a world where Iran doesn't have constraints on its nuclear program and we have to consider options for dealing with that," Malley said at a virtual event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Wednesday.

"We will be prepared to adjust to a different reality in which we have to deal with all options to address Iran's nuclear program if it's not prepared to come back," he said. "There is every possibility that Iran will choose a different path, and we need to coordinate with Israel and other partners in the region."

Malley said he would be traveling soon to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar to discuss those options.

Blinken reaffirmed the Biden administration's commitment to a two-state solution being the best way to ensure the long-term survival of Israel as a democratic and Jewish nation as well as meeting Palestinian aspirations to have a country of their own.

But he demurred when asked for a timetable on the administration's stated intention of re-opening the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Israel is opposed to the re-opening of the consulate, arguing that Jerusalem is its capital, as recognized by the U.S., and that its permission is required to open any diplomatic mission there.

The consulate had long been the conduit for U.S. relations with the Palestinians until Trump closed it and merged its functions with the American Embassy, which he had moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv after breaking with long-standing U.S. policy and recognizing the holy city as Israel's capital.

Blinken said only that "we'll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of a deepening of those ties with the Palestinians." But, he did not specifically mention that the consulate would be in Jerusalem.

U.S.-Israel Nuclear Talks
The U.S. and Israel said they are discussing other options to deal with Iran should it refuse to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, speaks at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, October 13, 2021. Andrew Harnik, Pool/AP Photo