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Rob Malley. Photo: Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty

The Biden administration is discussing potential next steps with partners in the Middle East and Europe if Iran doesn't return to negotiations in Vienna, U.S. Iran envoy Rob Malley told reporters in a conference call on Monday.

Why it matters: Talks have been frozen since Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June, and the Iranians continue to say they need more time to prepare to reenter the negotiations. In the meantime, Iran’s nuclear program is making significant advances, with uranium enrichment levels moving ever closer to the 90% grade needed to produce a nuclear weapon.

Driving the news: Malley visited held talks on Iran last week during visits to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, then traveled to Paris to meet senior diplomats from France, Germany and the U.K.

  • “All of our interlocutors shared growing concern about Iran’s nuclear advancement. This is a regional and global concern and there was shared impatience. At the same time there is a strong preference for diplomacy and efforts to revive the nuclear deal in order to engage Iran economically right afterwards," Malley said.

The state of play: Malley said the diplomatic effort is “at a critical phase” and that the Iranians' explanations for not returning to the Vienna talks “are wearing very thin."

  • “We have given a lot of thought to what we will do if Iran doesn’t go back to the table. We will have various ways to address that and this is what we talked about with our partners," Malley said.
  • He declined to provide any details except to say: "We will use other tools to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."
  • Malley said he was also "increasingly concerned" that Iran would elect to return to the negotiating table with unrealistic demands.

What’s next: Malley said that in the coming days and weeks there will be more intense diplomacy over the Iranian issue.

Go deeper

Nov 30, 2021 - World

U.S. fears Iran won’t scale back to 2015 nuclear deal

Officials gather in Vienna on Sept. 29 for the first day of renewed nuclear talks with Iran. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. officials have extremely low expectations as world powers resume negotiations with Iran to curb its nuclear program, believing the Iranians aren't yet ready to negotiate seriously, Axios is told.

Driving the news: Senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community have assessed the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, thinks of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, as a weak accommodationist who negotiated a bad deal with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015.

Nov 30, 2021 - World

Weapons-grade enrichment would "imperil" nuclear talks, diplomats warn Iran

The talks resume in Vienna. Photo: EU Vienna delegation handout via Getty

Senior diplomats from France, Germany and the U.K. briefed reporters Tuesday on the sidelines of the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, saying that if Iran starts enriching uranium to 90% purity, the level needed to produce nuclear weapons, it would "seriously imperil" the negotiations.

Why it matters: Israel has shared intelligence with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich weapons-grade uranium, as Axios first reported on Monday.

Abrams’ campaign manager rules out 2024 run if she wins governor's race

Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

In her first major interview since the official announcement, Stacey Abrams' campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo quashed speculation that the Georgia Democrat would interrupt a theoretical gubernatorial term to run for president in 2024.

Why it matters: Abrams' name has come up repeatedly as a top 2024 Democratic contender given President Joe Biden's age and Vice President Kamala Harris's low favorability rating.