During talks in Washington between Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, the Biden administration made it clear that it will weigh "all options" if Iran nuclear talks fail in Vienna.
Blinken warned Tehran that "time is running out" during a press conference while standing beside his Israeli counterpart, which also involved a UAE delegation. Voicing a concession to the hardline Israeli position of opposing a restored JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran in the first place, Blinken said "we are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course, and these consultations with our allies and partners are a part of that."
Presumably this includes military options, or else the kind of covert sabotage and espionage targeting Iranian nuclear and defense facilities that Israeli officials have lately admitted to. It's widely believed that for at least some Israeli covert attacks such recent attacks on the Natanz nuclear facility over the past year, there may have been US intelligence assistance or at least foreknowledge and tacit approval.
During the Wednesday press conference Israeli FM Lapid backed Blinken's "other options" comment and underscored that Tehran should fully understand it as a direct threat:
"I would like to start by repeating what the Secretary of State just said. Yes, other options are going to be on the table if diplomacy fails. And by saying other options, I think everybody understands here, in Israel, in the Emirates, and in Tehran what is it that we mean," he underscored.
That's when Lapid took the threat a big step further it terms of issuing a specific. He said Israel "reserves the right to act at any given moment, in any way" against Iran. That he said this while standing beside an apparently approving US Secretary of State marks a huge escalation in joint US-Israeli rhetoric on the prospect of a deal.
Crucially, this "other options" threat is being echoed in other corners of the State Department, suggesting an emerging new consensus after Vienna talks have been stalled since at least mid-summer. There's been no resumption of talks so far since new Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi took office at the start of August. On the same day as the Blinken-Lapid meeting, Biden's special envoy for Iran Robert Malley had this to say:
"We will be prepared to adjust to a different reality in which we have to deal with all options to address Iran’s nuclear program if it’s not prepared to come back into the constraints of 2016."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that ‘time is running short’ for Iran to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and that Washington would look at every option to deal with the challenge posed by Tehran pic.twitter.com/jwh1hOwTo4— Reuters (@Reuters) October 13, 2021
Meanwhile on Thursday these statements resulted in Iranian officials expressing "doubts" that the Vienna negotiations can proceed, saying it's unlikely Washington is ready to fulfill its commitments. The prime pressing commitment that Tehran has long sought from the US is the immediate dropping of all Trump-era sanctions, stressing that it's Washington that took itself out of conformity to the original JCPOA nuclear agreement.
Iran’s new Deputy Foreign Minister reacted with the following, according to Bloomberg:
Bagheri Kani said that Iran has "serious doubts" about Washington’s willingness to commit to the terms of the deal that former President Donald Trump abandoned three years ago, adding that Europe also has to show that it can fully implement the accord.
Other reports in the last days have suggested the two sides are inching closer toward resuming the Vienna process, something that European mediators are working hard to accomplish, Bloomberg noted.