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US envoy to Iran says no nuclear deal if Tehran doesn’t allow UN watchdog probe

Rob Malley tells Israeli TV network that revival of JCPOA remains ‘best option’ to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear bomb, denies Israeli influence toughened Washington’s stance

In this file photo from May 25, 2022, Robert Malley, the Biden's administration special envoy for Iran, waits to testify about the Iran nuclear deal during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
In this file photo from May 25, 2022, Robert Malley, the Biden's administration special envoy for Iran, waits to testify about the Iran nuclear deal during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

The US Special Envoy on Iran Robert Malley said Wednesday that if Iran continues to insist that the International Atomic Energy Agency end a probe of mysterious traces of uranium, there will be no possibility of a return to the nuclear deal.

Speaking to Israel’s Channel 12 News in New York, Malley said that Iran “resurrected” an unrelated dispute with the UN’s nuclear watchdog — involving its investigation of traces of uranium found at undeclared sites — in its most recent response to a European Union proposal to revive the 2015 pact.

“Either Iran resolves it by cooperating with the IAEA or it won’t be resolved,” Malley said. “If that’s the position that Iran sticks to, there can’t be a deal.”

Last month, the EU put forward a “final” draft of the agreement to return to the nuclear deal. Iran and the US then took turns responding to the text, with Washington calling Iran’s latest reply a step “backward.”

EU-brokered negotiations taking place in Vienna since April 2021 have aimed to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018, reimposing biting sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Tehran subsequently rolled back on its commitments under the agreement, and began to rapidly enrich and stockpile uranium.

Footage of the Natanz nuclear facility aired by Iranian state TV on April 17, 2021. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Malley told Channel 12 that Trump’s withdrawal from the deal was an error, explaining that his “maximum pressure” strategy led to a “more aggressive Iran in the region” and provided Tehran with the “most advanced nuclear program” it has ever possessed. He emphasized that a revival of the JCPOA was the “best option” to tackle Iran’s nuclear program.

The diplomat denied that the stalemate in talks was a result of a toughened position encouraged by Israel, but added that the US was “coordinating very closely” with the Israeli government.

“We’ve not toughened our position, it’s Iran that has backtracked on things that it has said in the past,” he said.

Asked whether it was legitimate to negotiate with Iran’s oppressive theocratic regime, Malley explained: “The negotiations with Iran have never been based on a view that this is a benevolent government that we can trust.”

“We need to do everything we can to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and a diplomatic outcome is the best way to do that,” he added.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani (L) leaves after talks at the Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna on August 4, 2022. (Alex HALADA / AFP)

Three ongoing probes into Iran’s nuclear activity by the IAEA have emerged as a major sticking point in the talks. Iran has demanded that the IAEA close its investigation into several undeclared nuclear sites, a nonstarter for Western powers.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi insisted that his country’s nuclear program was peaceful and that he was “serious” about negotiations.

“Our wish is only one thing: observance of commitments,” Raisi said, noting that it was the US that pulled out of the accord.

Israel has pushed its Western allies not to return to the JCPOA and has long been concerned Iran intends to build nuclear weapons — an accusation the Islamic Republic has long denied.

Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said last week that negotiations had reached a “stalemate” after Iran’s recent reply, while Jerusalem does not believe that Iran and world powers will return to the nuclear deal before the November midterm elections in the US.

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