Efforts to restore Iran deal entering ‘critical phase’: US envoy

Robert Malley says Iran’s official reasons for refusing to resume Vienna talks are ‘wearing very thin’.

Indirect US-Iran talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal have been on ice since June [File: AFP Photo/EU delegation in Vienna]

US envoy Robert Malley has warned that efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal are entering a “critical phase”, saying that there is “shared impatience” between Washington and its allies over Tehran’s advancing nuclear programme.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Malley reiterated the US administration’s position that it prefers diplomacy to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme but said the United States has “other options“.

“We will continue to pursue diplomacy even as we pursue other steps if we face a world in which we need to do that,” Malley said.

Six rounds of talks in Vienna earlier this year have failed to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting international sanctions against its economy.

The Vienna talks were suspended in June shortly after the election of Iran’s conservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

Now Iran has said it is willing to return to the negotiations, but it wants the talks to result in lifting sanctions against its economy. US officials say Washington is ready to rejoin the talk as soon as Tehran agrees to another round of negotiations.

On Monday, however, Malley suggested that time is running out to revive the agreement.

“We’re in a critical phase of the efforts to see whether we can revive the JCPOA,” he said. “We’ve had a hiatus of many months and the official reasons given by Iran for why we’re in this hiatus are wearing very thin.”

Malley, who serves as top envoy to Iran, held talks with European officials last week following visits to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

He told reporters that the window for diplomacy “is never going to be closed” even if efforts to re-implement the JCPOA fail.

Former President Donald Trump had nixed the pact in 2018 and piled sanctions on Iran as part of a maximum pressure campaign. In response, Iran started advancing its nuclear programme beyond the limits set by the agreement.

The Biden administration has said it is willing to return to mutual compliance with the deal, which faces opposition from Republicans and some hawkish Democrats in Congress.

Earlier this month, Department of State spokesperson Ned Price called for an “imminent” return to the negotiations in Vienna.

Israel, which has been a vocal opponent of the JCPOA, has threatened unilateral action against Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Israel reserves the right to act at any given moment in any way,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said during a visit to Washington on 13 October. “That is not only our right; it is also our responsibility.”

Iran announced earlier on Monday that it will hold talks with the European Union in Brussels this week – without US participation.

EU spokesman Peter Stano said the bloc is “sparing no efforts to resume talks of all parties in Vienna”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies