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Iran seeking nuclear deal for sanctions relief, but remains ‘greatest threat’ in Middle East: CENTCOM

United States Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie on Friday said he believes Iran will agree to a nuclear deal in order to gain sanctions relief, but warned it will remain a major threat in the region.

“The No. 1 objective of the United States with regard to Iran is Iran not [to] possess a nuclear weapon. So I think any solution that closes that path to them contributes to regional security,” he told reporters. “They want sanctions relief. And I believe they’re probably willing to talk about the nuclear issue in order to get the sanctions relief.”

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But McKenzie warned that though the chief concern is a nuclear Iran, it will remain a top threat in the Middle East even if a deal is reached.

“I continue to see Iran as the greatest threat to regional security and instability,” he said. “They furnish weapons, support and direction to proxies across the region who engage in acts of terror and undermine local governments.”

The general said that Iran’s ballistic missile program also continues to advance with greater range and accuracy – a development that ultimately led to the U.S. dropping out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

The Biden administration has made it a top priority to re-enter negotiations with Tehran first established under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The Trump administration withdrew from the deal after citing frustration over Tehran’s continued testing of ballistic missiles, despite continued reassurances from the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran was complying with the deal.

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This image taken from video footage aired by Iranian state television on March 8, 2022, shows the launch of a rocket by Iran's Revolutionary Guard carrying a Noor-2 satellite in northeastern Shahroud Desert, Iran. As the war in Ukraine rages on, diplomats trying to salvage the languishing 2015 Iran nuclear deal have been forging ahead with negotiations despite distractions caused by the conflict. 

Tehran argued it did not violate the JCPOA by conducting ballistic testing, though it did violate a separate U.N. charter. 

By 2019, Iran, struggling under crippling sanctions enforced by the U.S., claimed the JCPOA had been voided by Washington and resumed its nuclear developments. 

Recent stipulations by Russia have once again stalled negotiations, but White House officials continue to say they are close to reaching a deal with Tehran. 

“I think Iran wants a deal. We’ll see maybe today, maybe in the next few days if we’re actually going to get a deal. But they still hold that long-term view of wanting to eject us from the theater.”

McKenzie said the administration is aware that gaining a nuclear deal with Iran will not solve the other threats that Iran poses. 

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said on its website that it launched a missile barrage that struck early Sunday, March 13, 2022, near a sprawling U.S. consulate complex in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

The general suggested issues relating to Iran’s involvement in the war in Yemen and its continued use of ballistic missiles may be items the White House can negotiate once the nuclear deal is secured. 

“But if you can’t negotiate that, that’s where U.S. Central Command comes in,” McKenzie added. “It’s our job to demonstrate to Iran the concept of deterrence – the things they want to pursue are too painful for them to achieve.”

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