Biden’s Iran strategy needs more clarity

Even as the United States gets ready to tighten sanctions and counters Iranian threats, it is at the same time making efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“We do not have a deal … and prospects for reaching one are, at best, tenuous,” said US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee, alluding to indirect U.S.-Iran talks in Vienna that unraveled in March.

His comments drew fire from senior Democratic and Republican senators, who were critical of resurrecting the deal and expressed frustration at not knowing President Joe Biden’s “Plan B” in the event talks fail.

Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement struck by Iran and six major powers in 2015, Tehran will limit its nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

According to Tehran its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

In 2018, former US President Donald Trump reneged on the deal and re-imposed sanctions, which led Iran to violate nuclear limits about a year later.

US lawmakers have zeroed in on past U.S. statements that the time to revive the deal had all but passed, prompting an expression of contrition from Malley.

“When are you going to end (the talks)? When are you going to walk?” said Senator Jim Risch, the panel’s senior Republican. “I apologize. It’s true that we have said things in the past,” said Malley. “What has always been our guiding star is what are the non-proliferation benefits that our experts tell us and the intelligence community tells us.”

According to diplomatic and other sources, there has been a shift in the U.S. stance when it signalled that non-proliferation benefits would soon cease to justify a return, to a view that some limits on Iran’s program are better than none.

While saying that “all options are on the table”, Malley said a strike on Iran’s nuclear program would only slow it down, not stop it.

“I did not understand why the Biden administration was still willing to negotiate nor what it would do if talks fail,” said Bob Menendez, a Democrat, who had opposed the original agreement. “Why is it that we are still keeping the door open?”

“What is your Plan B?”

According to Malley, Washington is working with Europe and Israel to try deter and respond to any Iranian military action, including attacks on U.S. partners as well as its ballistic missile and drone programs.

He went on to add, he was confident that whatever be the outcome from the nuclear talks, European allies would work with Washington to enforce US sanctions at the IAEA and strengthen allies in the Gulf to counter Iran.

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