Washington is “very prepared” for other policy options if no deal is reached with Iran in Vienna to return to the nuclear agreement of 2015, a senior US official said on Thursday.
Brett McGurk, the US National Security Council's co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, said the eighth round of talks in Vienna is reaching a point of conclusion.
“We're actually reaching that culmination point and we're going to know very soon whether or not it is possible for the Iranians to turn return to compliance with the nuclear deal on terms that we and the international community can accept,” Mr McGurk said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“There's a chance for a deal and there's also a pretty good chance there's not going to be a deal. I will tell you we are prepared for either scenario.
“If there’s no deal, we're very prepared for that scenario.”
The US, in conjunction with its European allies, has discussed the option of imposing harsher snapback sanctions on Iran if the negotiations fail.
“Richard is an incredibly talented teammate and he's taking a new assistant role at the State Department,” he said, and added that the US negotiating team is “multifaceted".
The senior White House official said Iran is fast approaching the point when it will achieve nuclear breakout capability.
“The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is something that keeps me up at night, but I can assure you that it's never going to happen,” he said.
Mr McGurk said the US is in talks with Gulf allies including the UAE to improve deterrence capabilities following recent missile attacks on Abu Dhabi.
“When the UAE is facing a missile attack, the first phone call is to [the US] and in the middle of the night,” Mr McGurk said. “We’re immediately co-ordinating from the military level to the diplomatic level and down.”
On relations with Syria, Mr McGurk said the US remains opposed to normalising ties with President Bashar Al Assad but pointed to some wiggle room when it comes to other countries.
“We do not support normalisation with the Assad regime. We are never going to normalise the Assad regime … If Jordan, a neighbour, wants to have a discussion about border security with Syria, now obviously we're not going to say no,” he said.
Mr McGurk said the goal in Syria is to keep the ceasefires in place.
“We have assurance that the era of major military offensives in Syria is over. The war phase is basically over, and we want to keep that intact.”
He also stated the US committed to helping Saudi Arabia protect itself against missile attacks by the Houthis in Yemen, noting that ending the conflict there is a priority for President Joe Biden's administration.