With No Nuclear Deal, U.S. Eyes 'Other Options,' Iran Says JCPOA 'Only' Way

The White House has confirmed that President Joe Biden was not seeking to pursue progress on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran anytime soon, warning that the United States was preparing to pursue alternative options to ensure the Islamic Republic could not obtain a weapon of mass destruction.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby asserted that diplomacy toward reviving U.S. participation in the agreement known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is "not on the agenda" at all.

"There has been no progress on the JCPOA," Kirby said. "And we are not looking to make progress on the JCPOA anytime in the near future."

The remarks were the clearest official indication yet of the administration's shift away from a year-and-a-half-long effort to restore U.S. participation in the agreement, abandoned by then-President Donald Trump in 2018. U.S. officials have acknowledged that the endeavor was no longer the "focus" of their Iran policy since protests erupted in the Islamic Republic last September over the death of a woman in police custody.

Kirby's comments came a month after video emerged of Biden declaring that the deal "is dead, but we're not going to announce it," during an impromptu exchange with Iranian American Democrats of California President Sudi Farokhnia on the sidelines of a November 4 campaign event.

Though diplomacy has been sidelined, Kirby said Friday that Biden "remains absolutely serious about the national security needs that we have for Iran not to be able to achieve a nuclear weapons capability."

Iranian officials have always denied seeking such nuclear capabilities, an argument met with skepticism by the U.S. and a number of its allies and partners. As such, Kirby said that the White House was preparing for other contingencies.

"The president has always said, while he would prefer a diplomatic, peaceful way to achieve an outcome of Iran not having a nuclear weapon, he isn't going to take other options off the table," Kirby added. "We have to make sure that we have the resources, the capabilities, the readiness to achieve that outcome through other means if that is what it comes to."

Presidents, Biden, and, Raisi, US, Iran, combo
A combination of photos shows President Joe Biden speaking in Springfield, Virginia, on January 26, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addressing a rally in Tehran, Iran, on November 4, 2022. The White House has confirmed that Biden was not seeking to pursue progress on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran anytime soon, warning that the United States was preparing to pursue alternative options to ensure the Islamic Republic could not obtain a weapon of mass destruction. Alex Wong/Atta Kennare/AFP/Getty Images

Tehran, however, has expressed a desire to get talks to resurrect the JCPOA back on track, even as tensions mount between Iran and the West.

"From Iran's perspective, returning parties to the JCPOA and implementing the Deal's commitments would be the only option," the Iranian Permanent Mission to the United Nations told Newsweek.

The JCPOA was established in 2015 by the U.S. and Iran, alongside China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom under then-President Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president. The deal allowed for the lifting of sanctions against Tehran in exchange for a strict curbing of the country's nuclear activities.

The accord has been criticized by conservatives in Tehran and Washington, and Trump ultimately announced the U.S. exit in 2018, followed by an array of economic restrictions against the Islamic Republic that have curtailed its trade ties.

Throughout its tenure, the Trump administration repeatedly warned that "all options are on the table" in dealing with Iran, and frictions between the two nations neared the point of conflict on at least two occasions, with Iran's shootdown of a U.S. spy drone over the Persian Gulf in 2019 and the U.S. killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force chief Major General Qassem Soleimani early the following year.

With the promised benefits of the nuclear deal unfulfilled due to U.S. sanctions, Iran has gradually stepped back from its limitations by enriching uranium at higher levels and downgrading cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The current administration has criticized its predecessor's decision to withdraw from the JCPOA as a "strategic blunder," and Biden began his effort to revive Washington's participation in the JCPOA shortly after taking office, resulting in nine rounds of talks held in the Austrian capital of Vienna and a "final" draft by the European Union (EU). Discussions began to unravel in August, however, and the process became almost entirely frozen with the onset of nationwide demonstrations in Iran and accusations of human rights abuses.

Kirby said Friday that, in addition to Iran "killing its own citizens" amid the ongoing unrest, Washington's shift was also due to Tehran not "entering the negotiations in a serious way, trying to load it up with a whole bunch of things that had nothing to do with the nuclear deal." The U.S. has also condemned Iran's transfer of loitering munitions, sometimes referred to as "suicide drones," to Russia for use in its ongoing war in Ukraine.

But Iran, which has defended its efforts to crack down on instability as well as its defense cooperation with Russia that predates the Ukraine conflict, has said that it was the U.S. that was trying to insert other agendas into JCPOA negotiations.

"The JCPOA is only about nuclear issues," the Iranian Mission told Newsweek, "and the parties can't inject any other issues to it."

Iran, newspaper, end, of, the, JCPOA, deal
A newspaper stall with a view of Etemad newspaper's front page bearing a title reading in Persian: "The night of the end of the JCPOA", and cover photos of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and his deputy and chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, in the capital Tehran on August 16, 2022. The European Union and United States said at the time they were studying Iran's response to a "final" draft agreement on reviving a 2015 nuclear accord with major powers the EU presented at talks in Vienna, but negotiations ultimately collapsed. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

The latest nuclear deal developments came days after Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told a press briefing that, while no official negotiations were taking place, Iranian officials remained in communication with other parties to the agreement.

"The absence of official negotiations and holding official meetings does not mean the absence of interaction or exchange of messages and views," Kanaani said Monday, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

"In general, the positions and views of the Islamic Republic of Iran are clear in this field," he added, "and if it's in the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it's also in the interests of other parties, including the American government and the European members of the JCPOA, and it seems that all parties are interested in this issue."

Though the EU has continued to play the role of facilitator for stalled JCPOA negotiations, relations with Iran have also deteriorated, with the European Parliament following in the former Trump administration's footsteps to approve a resolution designating the IRGC a terrorist organization last week. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said Monday, however, that such a label could not be made official without a court ruling.

That same day, IRNA cited Borrell as telling reporters in Brussels that the JCPOA was not "dead," but that no progress had been made in reviving it.

Reached for comment by Newsweek, Peter Stano, the European Commission's lead spokesperson foreign affairs, said that "these talks are now stalled, but the High Representative continues to do his utmost to move them forward."

"The current developments in Iran – the ongoing repression against peaceful protesters and military support for the Russian aggression against Ukraine are not helping the overall atmosphere in this regard," Stano said.

"But as the Coordinator, the High Representative is focused on delivering on this role, which means he is coordinating," he added, "and not commenting in public on positions, remarks or actions of either of the parties participating in the talks about bringing the JCPOA back to its full delivery."

And though the U.S. has made known it was exploring other ways to prevent Iran's alleged path to a nuclear weapon, Stano said the JCPOA remained the only means of doing so.

"For the EU, the JCPOA is an important part of the global non-proliferation architecture and there is no viable alternative to this deal," he said. "It provides an international oversight over the Iranian nuclear program and without it, Iran would have been already a nuclear power today."

Update 1/28/2023, 8:24 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to include comments from European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano.

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts