Biden’s Iran envoy says return to nuclear deal ‘tenuous’

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If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries will do everything possible not to be left behind.

President Biden’s lead negotiator on nuclear talks with Iran on Wednesday gave a dim outlook for prospects of a return to the deal, telling a Senate panel it was “tenuous at best” despite nearly a year of talks to revive the agreement. 

U.S. Special Representative for Iran Rob Malley said in opening remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. would continue to reject Iranian demands that go beyond the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

He also said the U.S. is “fully prepared to live with and confront that reality” of moving forward without a return to the deal, and said that President Biden has “taken no action off the table,” in a veiled reference to possible military action, in coordination with Israel, to take out Iran’s nuclear program.

Malley said the administration is under no “illusion” that Iran’s government would not be a threat even with a return to the deal vacated by the Trump administration. But he said the Biden government does see the deal as imposing real constraints on Iran’s activities, and that without it Iran is more likely to become a nuclear power.

“Without those constraints, Iran has been accumulating sufficient enriched uranium and made sufficient technological advances to leave the breakout time is short as a matter of weeks, which means Iran could potentially produce enough fuel for bomb before we can know it, let alone stop it,” Malley said. 

Malley said that Iran remains a threat to the U.S. and allies, in particular Israel, acknowledging criticisms from lawmakers opposed to the JCPOA that the agreement does not address Tehran’s support for terrorism, ballistic weapons program, attacks on American forces in the region, detaining American and dual-nationals for political purposes and human rights atrocities at home. 

Malley also announced new sanctions will be imposed on an “international smuggling and money-laundering network” that he said provides hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC), which the former Trump administration designated as a terrorist organization and that President Biden has reportedly decided to maintain despite requests from Iran to lift the designation. 

“As we have throughout the negotiations, we will continue to strongly push back” on Iran’s threatening behavior, Malley said in announcing the sanctions. 

Malley underscored in his opening statement that the administration is intent on “fully reviving the JCPOA if Iran is willing to do so,” and committed to submitting any agreement reached to Congress for review under the terms of the Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). Senate Republicans, and some Democratic senators, have raised the congressional review mandated under INARA as a possible strategy to block the Biden administration from rejoining the JCPOA.

Malley said the administration’s strategy is to build on Iran’s return to the JCPOA to address its other destabilizing and threatening behavior “without the specter of a looming nuclear crisis.”

Tags Iran Iran nuclear deal JCPOA Joe Biden Joe Biden

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