Iran may be just "a matter of weeks" away from accumulating enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said, echoing claims made by Israel for the better part of the last decade.
Blinken made the comments in an interview with NBC News' Andrea Mitchell that was published Monday.
The secretary reiterated that the US was ready to return to compliance with the JCPOA nuclear deal if Iran did the same, and promised to work with US allies and partners on a "longer and stronger" agreement 'encompassing other issues'. He went on to say that the US nationals detained in Iranian prisons "need to be released," "irrespective of...any deal."
In the interview, Blinken went on discuss the Biden administration's approach to other adversaries, demanding that Russia release detained opposition vlogger Alexei Navalny, attacking China for "falling far short of the mark" in allowing World Health Organization inspectors to access coronavirus ground zero in Wuhan, and saying the US should open its doors to Hong Kong residents who are "victims of repression from Chinese authorities." He also indicated that Washington may be introducing further sanctions against North Korea following an "across the board" review of US policy toward the Asian nation.
JCPOA in Jeopardy
Blinken's remarks on Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions come amid the continued standoff between Tehran and Washington on which side should return to compliance with the JCPOA first. Earlier Monday, Iran's Foreign Ministry indicated that Tehran would not engage in "any bilateral dialogue with Washington," and suggested that "the US must first act by what it has said, that is, effectively implementing the lifting of sanctions and complying with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231" which endorsed the 2015 nuclear agreement.
On Saturday, Tehran blasted French President Emmanuel Macron's proposal to include other regional powers such as Saudi Arabia in the nuclear deal, saying the treaty was not renegotiable and that "its parties are also definite and unchangeable."
The Biden White House has expressed willingness to rejoin the JCPOA, but has demanded that Iran return to its obligations and slash its nuclear enrichment and stockpiling activities as a sign of good will first.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has blasted Washington over its demands. "Why on earth should Iran - a country that stood firm and defeated four years of brutal US economic terrorism imposed in violation of the JCPOA and the UNSC resolution - show goodwill gesture first?" he asked last week in a tweet.
Israel, which successfully lobbied the Trump administration into scrapping the JCPOA in 2018, has urged President Biden to avoid rejoining it, claiming the agreement would allow Iran to enjoy sanctions relief and to build up nuclear weapons capability at the same time. Israeli leaders spent years claiming Iran was just "weeks" or "months" away from building a nuclear bomb, and pressing the Obama and Trump administrations to exert crushing economic, political and even military pressure against the Islamic Republic.
Iran denies that it has any intention to build nuclear weapons, or weapons of mass destruction of any kind. The country destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile in the 1990s before joining the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, and has repeatedly demanded that the US and Israel destroy their own stocks of WMDs.