WASHINGTON — US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley told a congressional panel on Wednesday that prospects for restoring the Iran nuclear agreement are “at best tenuous.”
“We do not have a deal with Iran and prospects for reaching one are, at best, tenuous,” Malley told a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “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.”
In his testimony, Malley all but confirmed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s announcement on Tuesday that US President Joe Biden has made a final decision to keep Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.
Malley told senators that the US would reject “demands that go beyond the scope of the JCPOA,” using the official name for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We are fully prepared to live with and confront that reality if that is Iran’s choice.”
Malley was pushed by senators from both parties to reveal the administration’s backup plan if negotiations in Vienna fail to restore the nuclear deal. But the special envoy largely dodged the question and avoided offering a timeline for when the US would walk away from the talks.
He said the US would continue to negotiate “as long as the non-proliferations benefits of the deal are worth the sanctions relief that we would provide.”
But Malley made clear that Biden did not support military action, an option loudly mulled by Israel.
“All options are on the table,” Malley said, while adding that military action would only “set back” Iran’s nuclear program. Referring to the US history of war in the Middle East, Malley said, “We know that it costs.”
“But let’s leave it at this — the only solution here is a diplomatic one.”
Malley, however, warned of greater economic pressure if talks fail — and said the US would have the support of the Europeans, unlike under former US president Donald Trump.
Senators — including some from Biden’s Democratic Party — voiced exasperation, noting that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had warned in January that only “a few weeks” were left before Iran had advanced 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 Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the committee.
Menendez said Iran had convinced the world “that the United States wants the JCPOA more than the Iranian regime does.”
Also Wednesday, the US Treasury Department announced a new series of sanctions targeting an oil smuggling and money laundering network belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and backed by Russia.
The network “has facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil for the Quds Force and Hezbollah, and it spans several jurisdictions, including Iran and Russia,” the Treasury Department said.
The network is led by Quds Force official Behnam Shahriyari and former Quds Force official Rostam Ghasemi, who have been designated by the Treasury Department for sanctions.
Malley also discussed the new sanctions while speaking in the Senate.
The announcement of the measures were lauded by Menendez, but scoffed at by Republican Ranking Member Sen. Jim Risch, who said the IRGC has already been thoroughly sanctioned and that this move won’t make a difference. Instead, Risch said, the administration should focus on sanctioning Iranian oil sales to China.