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U.S. secretary of state and Israeli foreign minister talk stalled Iran nuclear deal

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There's growing concern about the stalled nuclear talks with Iran. Israel says Iran is dragging its feet in order to make advances to its nuclear program. European diplomats are trying to step up the pressure, and the U.S. is considering other options. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that this was a major topic at meetings today at the State Department.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State Antony Blinken was hosting his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates and Israel today, when attention quickly turned to Iran.

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YAIR LAPID: Iran is becoming a nuclear threshold country.

KELEMEN: That's Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. President Trump pulled the U.S. out of a 2015 deal that capped Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The Biden administration has been trying to revive the deal, but talks on ways to get both countries back into compliance have stalled, and Lapid is raising alarms.

LAPID: The Iranians are clearly dragging their heels, trying to cheat the world to continue to enrich uranium, to develop their ballistic missile program. Secretary of State Blinken and I are sons of Holocaust survivors. We know there are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Blinken is far more measured, hoping a revived deal will be able to cap Iran's nuclear program and prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We believe that the diplomatic path is the most effective way to ensure that that doesn't happen.

KELEMEN: But he noted Iran's new government has not yet agreed on a date to resume those talks in Vienna. A top European Union official is visiting Tehran this week to try to pin that down, saying it's crucial to pick up talks where they left off in June. Blinken says time is short.

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BLINKEN: We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn't change course. And these consultations with our allies and partners are part of that.

KELEMEN: U.S. envoy Rob Malley says he's planning to go to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to coordinate with Gulf allies. He spoke to the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace about the state of play and diplomacy. Malley also talked about his efforts to persuade Iran to release Americans that are being held there.

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ROB MALLEY: We've been engaged - again, indirectly - with Iran from Day 1 on talks about securing the release of the four Americans who've been unjustly, cruelly and outrageously detained as pawns.

KELEMEN: Among those four are the father and brother of American Babak Namazi, who told reporters last week that his father needs surgery to prevent a possible stroke.

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BABAK NAMAZI: My father has already lost so much precious time. I'm begging Iran to let him spend whatever small amount of time he has left with his family. My brother still making food

KELEMEN: Today, his brother marked six years behind bars in Iran, accused of collaborating with a hostile country. His father is still unable to leave Iran for that urgent medical care.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.