Biden official says 'weeks left' to rejoin JCPOA before Iran has bomb fissile material

"We only have a handful of weeks left to get a deal," the official said.

Updated: January 31, 2022 - 10:18pm

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A Biden administration official on Monday said that the United States has "only a handful of weeks left" to reenter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal before Iran will have enough weapons-grade fissile material to create a bomb — exactly what the deal would attempt to avoid.

"Given the pace of Iran's advances, its nuclear advances, we only have a handful of weeks left to get a deal, after which point it will unfortunately be no longer possible to return to the JCPOA and to recapture the nonproliferation benefits that the deal provided for us," the senior State Department official said.

The U.S. and Iran are in their eighth round of talks to reenter the JCPOA, originally created in 2015 under the Obama administration. Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018. Republicans in Congress are still resisting the deal and called on the Biden administration earlier this month to "pull out of the fruitless" nuclear deal talks with Iran.

Withdrawing from the deal was a "catastrophic error ... which left us with an unconstrained Iran nuclear program and inadequate if not wholly unsatisfactory tools to address it," claimed the State Department official.

"We're doing everything we can to get back to where we should have been absent that withdrawal," the official said, adding, "I think it's fair to say that when it comes to their capacity to have enough fissile material ... at weapons grade for a bomb, we're talking about weeks, not months. That's different from the timeline for weaponization, for having a bomb."

The Biden official grimly noted that "we will know sooner rather than later" whether the U.S. and Iran have reentered the JCPOA or "whether we're going to have to face a different reality, a reality of mounting tensions and crisis."

White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk said last week that the U.S. is "in the ballpark of a possible deal" with Iran, but the talks could fall through.