The Biden administration is grappling with a new dilemma as nuclear negotiations with Iran remain frozen: whether more pressure on Iran would help push the Iranians back to the 2015 deal, or lead Iran to escalate its nuclear program, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.
Why it matters: The Iranian nuclear program has made significant advances in recent months that will be difficult to roll back — and that could potentially undercut the benefits of salvaging the 2015 accord, particularly if a deal isn’t reached soon.
Driving the news: Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told National Security adviser Jake Sullivan in their meeting at the White House on Tuesday that Israel feared Iran was becoming a “nuclear threshold state.”
- Lapid told Sullivan that, given the current stalemate, there is a need for an alternative plan to the nuclear agreement.
Behind the scenes: This dilemma was at the center of the last round of U.S.-Israeli strategic talks about Iran’s nuclear program last week, Israeli officials told Axios.
- The Israeli side pushed the U.S. team, headed by Sullivan, to put more pressure on Iran through additional sanctions, sabotage operations against the nuclear program, and warnings that a military option could be on the table if Iran continues its nuclear provocations, the Israeli officials said.
- The U.S. side agreed on the need to counter Iran’s latest actions but said it was concerned such steps could generate Iranian backlash. The sabotage attempts that damaged Iran’s advanced centrifuge facility, which Iran attributed to Israel, led the Iranians to escalate their program and provided a pretext to limit the access of UN inspectors, sources briefed on the talks said.
- The Israelis then asked the U.S. side whether it had a deadline for ending the current limbo and taking any steps against Iran, Israeli officials told Axios.