Britain’s spy chief on Thursday expressed doubts that a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran can be revived, saying Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has remained opposed to it despite marathon diplomacy with the United States.
“If we can reach an agreement, this is probably the best tool still available to contain Iran’s nuclear program. I’m not convinced we’re going to make it,” MI6 chief Richard Moore told the Aspen Security Forum.
“I don’t think Iran’s supreme leader wants to make a deal. The Iranians won’t want to end the talks either, so they can go on a little longer,” Moore said in a live interview in Colorado state, in what has been billed as his first public appearance abroad.
President Joe Biden has backed the revival of the 2015 deal negotiated under former US leader Barack Obama and destroyed by Donald Trump three years later.
But indirect talks brokered by the European Union in Vienna have dragged on, in part because of the US’ denial of Iranian demands to reverse Trump’s blacklist of powerful Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group.
“I think the deal is absolutely on the table. And the European powers and the administration here are very, very clear about that. And I don’t think the Chinese and Russians would block it on this issue. But I don’t think the Iranians want it,” Moore said.
Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia were all parties to the deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, under which Iran has drastically scaled back its nuclear work in exchange for promises of sanctions lifting.
Iran technically remains in the deal but has backed away from compliance in retaliation for Trump’s re-imposition of sweeping sanctions, including a unilateral ban on Iran selling its oil.
Khamenei, who has led the Shia clerical state since 1989, is known for his hostility towards the United States, a central tenet of the Islamic Revolution a decade earlier that toppled the Western-leaning Shah.
He had grudgingly backed negotiators under the reformist government of President Hassan Rouhani who struck the deal in 2015, but Trump’s withdrawal and re-imposition of sweeping sanctions on Iran were seen by hardliners as confirmation of US evil intent.
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The Biden administration has refused to declare the deal dead, saying Iran still has a chance to return and reap the economic benefits.
Israel, Tehran’s nemesis and an undeclared nuclear power, has stepped up a campaign of sabotage that is widely believed to have involved the killing of nuclear scientists on Iranian soil.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, later speaking at the same conference in the Rocky Mountains, vowed to prevent Iran from ever getting the bomb and said Iran was already behind “malicious activities” even “without the nuclear shelter.” “.
“Shall we jump into a war at the first opportunity? no Should we be able to conduct a military operation to prevent it if necessary? The answer is yes. Are we building the ability? Yes,” he said.
Moore also alluded to Western intelligence operations in Iran when he criticized Tehran’s support for militant movements in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
“By the way, even if we go through with the deal, there’s still a lot of work to be done for my ministry because of what they’re up to regarding destabilizing activities in their region,” Moore said.
CIA chief Bill Burns, who was a senior US diplomat involved in negotiating the 2015 deal, said the “breakout time” — how long it takes Iran to develop a bomb if it so desires — is closer now “Weeks” than more than a year before Trump’s withdrawal.
“Our best intelligence verdict is that the Iranians have not resumed the (nuclear) armament efforts they had underway until 2004,” Burns told the conference on Wednesday.
“But the trend lines are quite worrying.”
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