Iran could obtain enough material to create a nuclear bomb within a matter of weeks, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned Monday.
Blinken, in an interview with NBC News taped Sunday, said Tehran is "a matter of weeks" away from crossing the threshold if it continues to step back from its commitments under the 2015 nuclear pact it struck with world powers.
The Islamic Republic has been taking the actions in retaliation for former President Donald Trump's unilateral decision to withdraw the US from the agreement in 2018, and reimpose sanctions that were lifted as part of the agreement.
The US and Iran are at loggerheads over who should first return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Action with the Biden administration repeatedly maintaining it will only meet its obligations after Tehran. That position has been a non-starter for Iranian officials who maintain that since Trump left the deal first, the US must lift its sanctions before Tehran will return.
President Joe Biden has sought to use the potential US return as a jumping-on point for negotiators to pursue additional Iranian activity that the US considers malign, including Tehran's development of ballistic missiles, and support for proxy groups throughout the region.
Asked during the interview if the release of Americans detained in Iran would be a condition for the "longer and stronger" deal sought by Biden, Blinken demurred.
"Irrespective of ... any deal, those Americans need to be released. Period," he said. "We're going to focus on making sure that they come home one way or another."
By Michael Hernandez in Washington