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In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Dec. 23, 2019.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Dec. 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/AP)

WASHINGTON – Iran’s nuclear program is “rapidly accelerating” three years after the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, a senior White House official said Friday.

Former President Donald Trump in May 2018 pulled the U.S. out the deal signed three years earlier with Iran, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany. The deal had traded sanctions relief for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

At the time, Trump said the multinational agreement did not do enough to stop Iran’s missile program, but the senior official said Friday that pulling out of the deal only accelerated Iranian nuclear development.

“This should not have been a surprise to anybody that knows Iranian behavior and would have predicted exactly what would have happened if the United States just unilaterally left the deal without any plan or conception of what would come next,” said the official, who spoke with reporters on condition of anonymity.

Now, President Joe Biden’s administration is working with allies and competitors China and Russia to try again to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.

“We've been working diplomatically to get this problem back in a box to return Iran to nuclear compliance with the deal,” the official said. “We think we have very strong support in that regard.”

The official said the diplomatic efforts have worked to make Iran “the isolated party,” which the Biden administration hopes will lead to a return to the nuclear agreement.

“It's pretty clear that in return for its nuclear compliance with the [deal], we are prepared to return to compliance with our side,” the official said. “But the Iranians to date have not agreed to take the steps that it would need to take on the nuclear side, which is why we've been stuck.”

The official said efforts to reach a deal will be a “central focus” for the U.S. in the Middle East next year.

“The only way for Iran to get out of the economic straightjacket that it's in is through return to commitments of the nuclear deal,” the official said. “This is obviously a story that will play out over the first quarter of 2022 and perhaps beyond.”

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.
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