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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.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

HRW criticizes Biden over "mixed signals" on human rights

Photo: Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Human Rights Watch criticized President Biden and other leaders of democratic nations for sending "mixed signals" on human rights in its annual World Report published on Thursday, saying they "are not meeting the challenges before them."

Why it matters: Though Biden pledged to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote that weapon sales to repressive governments and public reticence on certain human rights violations place those promises in question.

Retail stock traders power stunning comeback after deep selloff

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Stocks staged a Patrick Mahomes-esque comeback Monday, after plunging for the first few hours of trading.

Why it matters: The remarkable recovery suggests that retail traders who upended markets over the last year — most notably during the GameStop bonanza that occurred almost exactly a year ago — continue to be powerful influence in the markets.

America can't quit polarizing politicians

Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New data finds that the nation's most polarizing politicians are often the ones that garner the most attention online.

Why it matters: Online engagement helps politicians build a bigger national profile and more fundraising power, incentivizing them be more outrageous, more polarizing and more divisive.