US Iran envoy: US seeks to fully revive nuclear pact, but prospect ‘tenuous;’ would submit revived deal for Congressional review
“Iran has to decide if it is prepared to reach a deal without extraneous demands,” US Iran envoy Rob Malley told Senate Foreign Relations panel May 25.
US Iran envoy Rob Malley told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today (May 25) that the U.S. is seeking to fully revive the 2015 Iran nuclear pact –the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)--if Iran is willing; but that the prospect is tenuous, as Iran has to decide if it will agree to revive the deal without the US removing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from a US terror black list.
“We've made clear to Iran that if they wanted any concession on something that was unrelated to the JCPOA…we’d need something reciprocal from them, that would address our concerns,” Malley told the panel, in response to a question from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), if the IRGC foreign terrorist organization de-listing issue was the main ‘sticking point’ to reviving a deal.
“I think that Iran has made the decision that it's not prepared to take the reciprocal steps,” Malley continued. “They have to decide now, are they prepared to reach a deal without extraneous demands.”
The U.S. diplomat made clear that the administration saw getting Iran back into the deal’s nuclear limits as critical even as he expressed pessimism that a deal was within reach.
“So here's our strategy: fully reviving the JCPOA if Iran is willing to do so,” Malley told the subdued hearing, in which several senators and Malley expressed horror at the Texas elementary school shooting yesterday that killed over 20 people, many young chidren.
“Building on that deal without the specter of a looming nuclear crisis to seek a broader follow-on diplomatic outcome, and throughout,… deterring, countering, and responding to the full array of Iranian threats in close coordination with Europe and crucially with Israel… and our regional partners, while credibly demonstrating that we will never permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Malley said.
But, Malley assessed, “the prospects for a deal are at best tenuous at this point.”
Hawaii Democratic Senator Brian Schatz compared the illogic of tossing out an imperfect deal that was working, to throwing out a cheeseburger because one wanted a bigger one. “I don’t get this idea that…someone gives you three quarters of a cheeseburger. ‘I’m so hungry, I want a whole cheeseburger. I’d rather have nothing’…I mean, this is literally the argument that we are having,” Schatz said.
“I remember the argument that the sunsets should have been longer in the future,” Schatz said. “Fair enough. But the answer to the sunsets should have been longer in the future is not let’s sunset it now.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) in questioning elicited from Malley that if diplomacy fails, there is not a military solution that would permanently eradicate Iran’s nuclear program.
“What I understand is that there are severe limitations to a military option, in part because it is difficult to bomb knowledge out of existence, and the risk to spill over into a regional war is significant,” Murphy said. “I want to make sure you don't leave the impression with the committee, that there is a clean military option on the table to remove Iran from a nuclear weapons future. Can you just talk about your assessment of a military option if that is all that's left?”
“It is…President Biden's firm belief, and I think it's a belief shared by everyone who's looked into this, that by far the best option is a diplomatic one,” Malley responded. “And [the] military option cannot resolve this issue. It could set it back and we're happy to talk about it more in a classified setting. But there is no military response.”
“The only real solution here is a diplomatic one,” Malley said.
Even with some Senators on the panel expressing skepticism, or at least a lack of enthusiasm, about a revived JCPOA, more Israeli former senior security officials are acknowledging that a revived deal is better for Israel than the alternative.
Noting an IAEA report this month that Iran had amassed a 42 kilogram stockpile of uranium enriched up to 60%, a former Israeli military intelligence director said reviving the Iran nuclear pact would buy time.
“My conclusion is that in the reality of here and now, reaching a deal is the right thing,” former Israeli Military Intelligence Director Maj. Gen. (Res.) Tamir Hayman told Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview published May 25.
A revived nuclear agreement “would diminish… the amount of enriched uranium Iran has; it would set it back and it would buy [us] a very long time because enrichment takes a long time,” Hayman, the new head of the Israeli INSS think tank, said.
“So no Deal policies have not only failed to tighten the lid on Iran's nuclear program, it lifted them entirely,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) said. “…We know that military action will fail to stop the Iranian nuclear weapon. It may very well spur it to cross the threshold.”
“So for me, it's a cut and dried case of why a deal, while imperfect, is far superior to no deal,” Markey continued. “The IAEA inspections and monitoring of Iran's facilities will be lost completely without a deal. We will be left in the dark about Iran's breakout time.”
“That fog will lead to calls for military action by the United States or its allies against Iran, which if taken would at best temporarily derail Iran's nuclear program and more likely put American troops into harm's way in the Middle East, perhaps sparking an all out Middle Eastern war,” Markey continued. “We can ill afford to stumble into yet another conflict in the Middle East.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, advised Malley and the Biden administration to ignore hawks urging them to walk away from the talks, do their best on getting a revived deal, and then turn it over to Congress to review under the 2015 INARA legislation.
“I want to encourage you to just keep the dialogue going,” Kaine told Malley. “There are some on this committee who are basically telling you stop dialogue right now. Don't accept that advice. Do your best…, bring it to Congress and let Congress own it…whether the U.S. is pro diplomacy or not.”
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