WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – The United States’ top negotiator for Iran nuclear talks made the case for lawmakers on Wednesday in what could be a final effort for a deal that renegotiates limits on Iran’s nuclear development, Despite Iran’s closure in completing a bomb-capable nuclear program.
Rob Malle, President Joe Biden’s envoy, faced with lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee aimed at bringing the US and Iran back into a dissolved 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Some Democrats on the committee joined Republicans in saying it was time to break up talks and move to harder means to stop Iran from taking the final, technical steps needed to bomb.
Biden has prioritized returning the US and Iran to the nuclear deal, which his administration says was an unsuccessfully difficult strategy by President Donald Trump. Failing to do so would be a politically damaging blow to his foreign policy agenda and risk a dangerous escalation of tensions in the Middle East.
Mali acknowledged to lawmakers that the chances of success were “weak”, which the administration refers to as the final push to call off a deal.
The agreement would ease the punishment of international sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran accepting the extent and monitoring of its nuclear work.
Mali underlined to lawmakers that the administration still believed that Iran’s nuclear program was less of a threat inside a deal than it was outside of a deal.
“How long will this last?” Sen. James Risk of Idaho, the committee’s top Republican, often called for slow-moving, shutdown and negotiations.
As for the Biden administration, “we are prepared to return to the JCPOA as long as our assessment is that its nonproliferation benefits are worth the sanctions relief,” Mali responded.
Iran jumped back into building its nuclear capability in 2018 after Trump pulled the US out of the international nuclear deal in talks with the Obama administration.
Many opponents of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have argued Iran’s progress since then for its ability to weaponise a civilian nuclear program means it is too late for any agreement to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. It’s over.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that Iran has deposited about 40 kilograms (about 90 pounds) of uranium, enriched to 60% purity, a small, technological step up from weapons levels.
“I think we will have to face an increasingly clear reality in 2022 – the withdrawal of the 2015 nuclear deal is not around the corner, and I believe it is not in the US strategic interests,” said committee chair Bob Menendez, one of Biden’s lawmakers in his own party, opposed the Iran nuclear deal.
“We need to deal with what lies ahead,” Menendez said.
Biden has insisted that the US would never allow Iran to take the final step towards achieving a nuclear program.
Malee reiterated that the administration and its allies are working out alternatives if talks fail. The administration has declined to publicly say what steps it will take to shut down Iran’s centrifuges and other nuclear equipment, most of which are deep underground and well defended against air strikes.
“Being at the table doesn’t mean we’re waiting. We’re not waiting, we’re acting,” Malley told lawmakers.
Democratic lawmakers in support of the negotiating effort argued that now peaceful pressure for military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program and abandoning talks would be dangerous and potentially futile.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA, urged US leaders to protest the siren song of the option of Israeli warplanes to go against the nuclear targets of Israel’s top rival, Iran.
D-Con’s Sen. Chris Murphy said it was “hard to put knowledge out of existence,” suggesting that Iran would rebuild its program only after the attacks. “And the risk of a regional war erupting is significant.”
Malee promised lawmakers on Wednesday that the administration would allow Congress to review any deal that comes out of talks. It responded to a demand by Menendez and other hardliners on the nuclear deal. Lawmakers can try to block any new deals, but face the president’s veto.
Negotiations to bring Iran and the US back into compliance with the nuclear deal appear to have been agreed upon by the end of the winter except for the end points of the deal. But talks have since come to a standstill, after Iran called on the United States to remove a terrorist designation on the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
Over the past several days, European diplomacy is believed to have persuaded Iranian leaders to drop that demand. It was politically unstable for the Biden administration, which is eager to show American conservatives and ally Israel remain cautious against Iran’s attempts to build power and influence in the Middle East.
Even as Mali urged for more time for talks, the Biden administration announced new sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, in what Mali said was nearly identical to the targeting of Iran by the Biden administration. There were 150 restriction designations. Wednesday’s sanctions affected an operation by a current Revolutionary Guard officer said by the US and an earlier action to smuggle oil in violation of international sanctions.