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U.S. Envoy Says Prospects For Reviving Iran Nuclear Deal 'Tenuous' At Best

By RFE/RL May 25, 2022

The U.S. special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, says that the prospects of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are "tenuous" at best, telling a Senate committee that it is more likely than not that talks will fail.

"As of today the odds of a successful negotiation are lower than the odds of failure and that is because of excessive Iranian demands to which we will not succumb," Malley told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 25.

Malley, who has led more than a year of indirect talks with Iran, said the United States still supports a return to the 2015 nuclear accord and is ready to lift sanctions if it secures an agreement.

But if the currently stalled talks to revive it fail, the United States is "ready to continue to enforce and further tighten" sanctions and "respond strongly to any Iranian escalation, working in concert with Israel and our regional partners."

While saying that "all options are on the table," Malley made clear that President Joe Biden does not support military action, saying "by far the best option is a diplomatic one."

He also said the United States would reject demands that go beyond the scope of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the original deal between Iran and six major powers is formally known.

One of Iran's demands is the removal of the U.S. designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, a step Biden has rejected.

The Biden administration has been working to revive the JCPOA since taking office last year. Then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping unilateral sanctions, including on Iran's oil.

Malley said that Trump's "maximum pressure" approach had failed, and Iran had stepped up its nuclear program since the United States pulled out of the deal.

Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had warned in January that only "a few weeks" were left before Iran's program would advance to the point that the JCPOA was no longer beneficial.

"We continue to wait and hope. But hope is not a national security strategy," said Menendez, who opposed the original agreement and said he did not understand why the Biden administration is still willing to negotiate.

Other opponents of JCPOA argue that Iran's progress toward the ability to weaponize what it says is a civilian nuclear program means it's too late for any accord to block Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that Iran had amassed about 40 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, which is a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels.

"I think we must prepare for the increasingly obvious reality we face in 2022 -- a return to the 2015 nuclear deal is not around the corner, and I believe it is not in the U.S. strategic interests," Menendez said.

"We need to tackle what comes next," he added.

Despite past U.S. statements that the time to resurrect the deal was running out, Malley said Washington would keep trying to revive it.

The technical assessments remain "that the nonproliferation benefits of the deal are worth the sanctions relief that we would provide," he said.

He also offered strong criticism of Iran's crackdown on recent protests against austerity measures.

"I don't think this is a strong regime that is basking in being able to circumvent sanctions," Malley said. "It is a regime under duress and that's because of its own mismanagement and our sanctions."

The Treasury Department on May 25 announced that it was broadening the sanctions to include a network backed by the IRGC Quds Force and Russian officials that it said had shipped hundreds of millions of dollars of oil in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

The oil-smuggling network "has acted as a critical element of Iran's oil revenue generation, as well as its support for proxy militant groups that continue to perpetuate conflict and suffering throughout the region," the Treasury Department said in a news release.

The United States will "continue to strictly enforce sanctions on Iran's illicit oil trade," even while it continues to seek a return to full implementation of the JCPOA, the Treasury said.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-us-malley- nuclear-deal/31868481.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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