The US military commander for the Middle East told the Financial Times it had a “very robust range of military options” to deter Iran from expanding its nuclear program and ballistic missile arsenal.
Amid growing warnings that time is running out to rekindle the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran signed with world powers, the Biden administration seeks to step up pressure on Iran by launching potential US military responses and stepping up the application of sanctions.
“I think… Iran seriously underestimates us if it thinks it is going to be able to continue attacking and causing casualties in Iraq and Syria, while still being able to conduct nuclear negotiations with us to no effect. Centcom commander General Frank McKenzie said in an interview.
“[W]We retain a capacity to reinforce very, very quickly if it becomes necessary. And I think this fact is not lost sight of [Iran]. ”
McKenzie’s comments come as the EU-brokered indirect talks between Washington and Tehran resumed in Vienna on Thursday. Western countries are increasingly frustrated by what they see as Tehran’s hard-line approach to diplomatic efforts to salvage the nuclear deal.
Under the leadership of US President Joe Biden, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan received a briefing from Pentagon leaders in October on a full set of military options available to ensure Iran was not unable to produce a nuclear weapon, according to a person familiar with the matter. The briefing was previously reported by Reuters.
In another sign of growing U.S. pressure, the State Department is sending a delegation to the United Arab Emirates next week to warn Gulf state banks and businesses not to violate existing sanctions against Iran. This move was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
A senior administration official told FT that a US delegation will also visit South Korea and Japan to strengthen compliance with sanctions against Iran.
McKenzie said diplomatic engagement was the “first and best avenue” for addressing Iran’s rapidly developing nuclear program and military capabilities, which he said encompass ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and nuclear weapons. deadly drones.
âLet me be very clear: it is our conception and our intention that diplomacy is pursuing at this time. This is the best way forward for everyone and Iran just needs to realize it, âhe said.
In 2018, former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, which granted sanctions relief in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program. He then imposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Tehran has responded by stepping up its nuclear activity and is now enriching uranium to its highest level.
Biden has vowed that the United States will join the deal and remove many sanctions if Tehran returns to full compliance with the deal. But he also vowed that Iran “will never have a nuclear weapon under my watch.” US officials have repeatedly warned that “all options” are on the table.
A senior administration official said that given the results of the latest round of talks and the progress underway at Iran’s nuclear facilities, the United States is “paving the way for a whole different path.”
âIf diplomacy cannot get started quickly and Iran’s nuclear program continues to accelerate, then we will have no choice but to take further steps to further restrict Iran’s revenue-producing sectors. We won’t go into details at this time, âthe official said.
McKenzie described the Iranian threat as the largest in the region and said recent overflights of US strategic bombers combined with allied fighter jets from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain and Egypt were intended to send a message to Tehran. âIt reassures your friends and worries your enemies a bit and those who could potentially be your enemies,â he said.
Western frustration with Iran increased after nuclear talks ended following the election in June of President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric. Raisi replaced Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist and staunch supporter of the deal, and appointed new negotiators who hardened Tehran’s stance.
Last week, the UK, France and Germany – the EU’s signatories to the deal – accused Iran of going back on compromises agreed to in the first six rounds of talks this year after Iranian negotiators cut back. submitted new proposals.
Senior diplomats from the so-called E3 warned that it was “not clear how these new gaps can be closed within a realistic timeframe on the basis of Iranian plans.”
The regime demands a guarantee that no US administration will be able to unilaterally withdraw from the deal in the future and that all sanctions, not just those imposed by Trump, will be lifted before he begins to cancel his policies. nuclear gains. Experts say that while Iran’s concerns are understandable, they are unrealistic and that it would be impossible for a US administration to give such guarantees.
Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, said Thursday he doubts the West is ready to lift sanctions and instead seeks unilaterally to allay its own concerns. He told Josep Borrell, the EU’s top foreign affairs official, in a telephone conversation that “now is the time to act because there have been enough words in the past eight years â.
The United Arab Emirates, an important partner of the United States, is the dominant commercial and financial center in the region, and many Iranian companies operate in the neighboring state.
The Gulf state has also sought in recent months to improve its traditionally strained relations with Iran. UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Tehran this week on the first official trip to the Islamic Republic by a senior Emirati official in nearly a decade.