Nuclear talks in Vienna
Nuclear talks in Vienna Reuters

If diplomacy fails, the US will consider using other means to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, senior Biden administration officials said on Wednesday in a briefing ahead of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's visit to the White House, according to Barak Ravid of Axios.

The US officials did not say what exactly the administration would consider but are clearly trying to reassure the Israelis that they are willing to pressure Iran.

One of the officials quoted a remark Bennett made prior to his departure about the fact that Iran's nuclear program has continued to progress over the last few years, citing it as proof that the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal was a mistake.

"We are committed to the diplomatic track with Iran and think it is the best way to roll back its nuclear program but if that doesn’t work there are other avenues to pursue," the official was quoted as having said.

The senior administration officials said they are encouraged by Bennett’s comments about the “spirit of cooperation" between the US and Israel, including on Iran. They said they did not know yet if and when the nuclear talks in Vienna would resume, but that the US would cooperate with Israel on Iran.

One official also noted the current "political complexities" in Israel and said, "We think Bennett is navigating things very well."

Robert Malley, the special US envoy for Iran, said last week that the US is preparing some contingency plans should the talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal not succeed.

One of those contingencies, he said, would be that Washington and Tehran sign a wholly separate deal, complete with different parameters than the current accord. Another is a suite of punitive responses in coordination with European allies, though Malley would not specifically detail what those would be.

Iran has gradually scaled back its compliance with the 2015 deal it signed with world powers in response to former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement in May of 2018.

While the Islamic Republic has been holding indirect talks with the Biden administration on a return to the agreement, it recently paused the talks and announced they will not resume before the new government takes office.

Last week, the US urged Iran to return to the negotiating table.

"We have made clear that continued nuclear escalations beyond JCPOA limits are unconstructive and inconsistent with a return to mutual compliance," State Department spokesman Ned Price said, using the acronym for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is the official name for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

"Iran should cease its nuclear escalations and return to negotiations toward full implementation of the JCPOA in good faith," he added.