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Blinken during the hearing. Photo: Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images

Secretary of State designate Tony Blinken said in his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the Biden administration is "a long way" from executing its plan to return to the Iran nuclear deal, and he plans to consult with Israel and the Gulf states before doing so.

Why it matters: America's partners in the Middle East have been publicly raising their concerns about a possible return to the 2015 agreement and calling on the Biden administration to consult with them first.

The state of play: President-elect Biden's plan is to return to the deal, by lifting sanctions, if Iran returns to compliance with the restrictions on its nuclear program. In the next stage, Biden wants to negotiate a broader and longer-lasting agreement.

  • Blinken said those negotiations would include Iran’s missile program and regional activity.

What they're saying: Blinken said Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal left Iran closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon because Tehran began to breach its terms. “Iran’s breakout time, which was a year under the nuclear deal, is only three to four months today," Blinken said in the hearing.

  • Yes, but: While Blinken stressed that the U.S. would live up to its commitments if Iran did, he said the new administration wouldn't rush back into the deal before assessing whether Iran was prepared to return to full compliance.

Worth noting: Blinken said he “didn’t shed tears” about the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani by the U.S. one year ago, but added that he believes it made America less safe.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated Jan 28, 2021 - World

Biden reviews U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia and UAE

Trump struck several large arms deals with Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Saudi Arabia. Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

The Biden administration has put on hold two big arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which were approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, a State Department official told Axios.

Why it matters: The sales of F-35 jets and attack drones to the UAE and a large supply of munitions to Saudi Arabia will be paused pending a review. That signals a major policy shift from the Trump era, and may herald sharp tensions with both Gulf countries.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
8 mins ago - Health

Health care workers hit new breaking point

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The ranks of health care workers are dwindling and stretching what it means to be reaching their "breaking points," particularly at small nonprofit hospitals.

The big picture: Even as Omicron cases have begun to wane in some places, many hospitals are still fielding a crush of patients amid record employee callouts.

Sarah Palin tests positive for COVID, delaying defamation trial

Sarah Palin. Photo: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, delaying the start of her defamation trial against the New York Times.

Why it matters: The trial will be closely watched, as it's a rare instance of a major media company defending its editorial practices before an American jury.