Nov 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

U.S. increases pressure on Iran ahead of new nuclear talks

Illustration of a nuclear warning as a clock face

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Biden administration is slowly ratcheting up its diplomatic pressure on Iran ahead of a potential resumption of the nuclear talks.

Why it matters: After months of contemplating how to respond to Iran's foot-dragging, with talks now frozen since June, the Biden administration in recent days started taking steps that some of its European allies, Israel and the Gulf states were waiting for.

Driving the news: Iran's chief nuclear negotiator has said the country will return to the talks by the end of November, but senior officials in Washington are skeptical about the prospects for those talks.

  • On Friday, the U.S. announced new sanctions on Iranian officials and entities affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' drone unit, which has been engaged in attacks against U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq as well as Israeli-owned ships.
  • Israeli officials say those sanctions were ready several weeks ago but were finally implemented after the latest drone attack on the U.S. base in al-Tanf, Syria.
  • On Saturday, President Biden and the leaders of the "E3" — France, Germany and the U.K. — met at the G20 and issued a joint statement to show they are aligned on the Iranian issue and warn the Iranians of a “dangerous escalation” if they don’t return to the 2015 deal.

That same day, the U.S. took another step to signal its impatience.

  • A U.S. Air Force B-1 strategic bomber went on what U.S. Central Command called a “presence patrol” over the Red Sea, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.
  • Fighter jets from Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain escorted the U.S. patrol over their respective airspaces. “The patrol was intended to deliver a clear message of reassurance," U.S. CENTCOM commander Gen. Frank McKenzie said in a statement.
  • Israeli officials tell me the B-1 overflight was exactly the sort of “power projection” they urged the Biden administration to show in the region as a signal to Iran.

What they're saying: Secretary of State Tony Blinken also went further than any previous top Biden official in telling CBS’ Margaret Brennan — who had asked about potential military action if Iran continues to accelerate its nuclear program — that "every option is on the table."

  • Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian tweeted on Tuesday that Iran was "closely examining Mr. Biden's behavior" as the U.S. president imposed new sanctions while calling for diplomacy.
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