Biden envoy said to meet Iran’s UN ambassador as West looks to restart nuke contacts

Financial Times describes Robert Malley’s recent talks with Amir Saeid Iravani as part of effort to engage with Tehran amid concerns its expanding nuclear program could trigger war

US special envoy to Iran Robert Malley in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)
US special envoy to Iran Robert Malley in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)

The Biden administration’s special envoy for Iran has reportedly held several recent meetings with the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, as Western powers look to restart dialogue with Tehran on its expanding nuclear program.

According to a report Friday in the Financial Times, Robert Malley’s contacts with Amir Saeid Iravani were believed to be the first direct interaction between American and Iranian officials since then-president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018.

The newspaper, which cited diplomats and analysts, noted Iravani was a senior member of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council before his posting to UN headquarters in New York last year. The council’s previous head, who was replaced last month, played a key role in the negotiations that led to the 2015 nuclear deal.

An unidentified close to the administration said the talks primarily focused on a potential prisoner exchange.

“The prisoner swap is going to be an opener for the talks,” a diplomat was quoted as saying. “It is unlikely there will be a nuclear deal, but there could be some sort of interim thing, or a freeze.”

Another US official said the administration “always believed diplomacy is the best way to verifiably and durably ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.”

“But we have nothing to announce, and we have not removed any option from the table,” the official said.

Iran’s UN Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani addresses the UN General Assembly before a vote on a resolution upholding Ukraine’s territorial integrity and calling for a cessation of hostilities after Russia’s invasion, February 23, 2023 at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The daily described the outreach as part of a shift among US and European officials, who are concerned Iran’s continually expanding activities in violation of the nuclear deal could trigger a regional conflict.

“There is recognition that we need an active diplomatic plan to tackle Iran’s nuclear program, rather than allowing it to drift,” said a Western diplomat. “The thing that worries me is that Iran’s decision-making is quite chaotic and it could stumble its way into war with Israel.”

In response, a State Department spokesperson told the Financial Times that “we have the means to communicate with Iran and deliver messages to them when it is in America’s interest to do so,” without elaborating.

The report came a day after the UN’s atomic watchdog closed an investigation into an Iranian site where secret nuclear activity was suspected, leading Israel to accuse the monitor of caving to pressure from Tehran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency also said Iran has significantly increased its stockpile of enriched uranium in recent months to more than 23 times the limit set out in the 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers.

An inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency sets up surveillance equipment, at the Uranium Conversion Facility of Iran, just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, Aug. 8, 2005 (AP Photo/Mehdi Ghasemi, ISNA, File )

Talks to revive the nuclear deal fell apart last year, but recent reports have indicated steps to possibly renew the diplomatic initiative, sparking Israeli concerns that a new deal could legitimize Iran’s nuclear activity and erase international support for potential military action.

The escalating tensions between Iran and the West over its nuclear program also come as Tehran has faced mass protests recently and anger from the West over its arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones now targeting Ukraine.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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