US envoy to Iran Robert Malley confirmed that Tehran is "very, very close" to obtaining sufficient quantities of enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon.
However, he refused to declare the end of diplomacy in the efforts of President Joe Biden's administration to return to the nuclear agreement, warning that the military option is the "last resort" although it is "very difficult and very dangerous."
In an interview with the BBC's HARDtalk program, Malley said that "diplomacy never ends" when it comes to Iran, even if accompanied by "sanctions, pressure, countering what they are doing in the region, and also mobilizing the international community" and in conjunction with "the indirect negotiations with Iran."
Malley has been a key figure in US-Middle East policymaking under three Democrat administrations for Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and now Biden.
He recalled that US officials have announced publicly they would continue the indirect talks but "will not hesitate to take other steps to stop Iran's aggressive behavior or to curb its nuclear program."
He added that the issue "is not an either-or; it is not diplomacy or the rest. Everything goes hand in hand."
The US official avoided saying whether Iran now poses a greater threat to US national security than it was when Biden assumed the presidency nearly two years ago, but he admitted that "we already inherited a very dangerous situation because of the reckless decision by the prior administration to withdraw from the deal that was working."
Malley acknowledged that "Iran's nuclear program has advanced. No doubt about it. No question."
The US, its European allies, and others are "far more united today than they were" under former US President Donald Trump and are united more than ever, and this "puts us in a much stronger position to confront Iran."
"Things have gotten worse. Iran has developed its nuclear program in ways that are very dangerous, but we are more united, and we have a stronger position from which to counter Iran."
When asked if he confirmed a previous statement by Biden in which he said the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), "is dead," Malley replied: "I wasn't hired to write obituaries."
However, he revealed that Iran had "turned down multiple opportunities to end this crisis and to get back into the deal. [...] They are the ones who turned their backs on it."
Moreover, the envoy distinguished between Iranians being "very, very close" to having enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb and close enough to obtaining a bomb, which he described as a different question.
He declared that Iran has not resumed its "weaponization program and efforts to acquire a weapon," adding that if they did, "the circumstances would change."
"We are not comfortable with them being as close as they are today, and that's why we're both pursuing a diplomatic path," said Malley, recalling that, "President Biden said that if that option fails, all other options will be on the table," including the military option which he described as "far from our preference" and a "last resort."
He stressed that the military option is not the US' "first option" because it is "a very difficult option. It's a very dangerous option," adding that Biden would only do it if necessary.
Asked about Israel, Malley said Tel Aviv has its interests and perception of Iran, adding: "We did not always agree on the tactics. I think we agree on the objective, which is to make sure that Iran can't acquire a nuclear weapon."
Malley denied that the current US-Israeli military maneuvers aim to prepare for a military plan for an attack against Iran.
Rather, they are designed to project Washington's support to Israel and ensure that the "US and Israel together can work to defend their common interests," [...] regardless of what is happening in Ukraine and what is happening in the Russian theater, in the European theater," he explained.
The envoy renewed US support for human rights and basic freedoms in Iran, asserting that it continues to counter Tehran's support for Russia in the war against Ukraine and its threats against American citizens.
Furthermore, Malley stressed that Washington was not seeking regime change in Iran, clarifying that "our task is to stand up for the Iranian people."