After a year of talks over reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, today’s appearance by special envoy Rob Malley at the United States senate may prove decisive.
Malley is sure to be questioned, by supporters and opponents of the 2015 deal (the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), over Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett’s claim Tuesday that President Joe Biden has decided not to accept Iran’s demand that he drop the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) from the US list of ‘foreign terrorist organizations.’
Supporters of the JCPOA in the US argue that the listing, by President Donald Trump in 2019, was one of many measures intended to doom subsequent efforts to renew the deal, from which Trump withdrew the US in 2018. They also say the the killing of Iranian IRGC colonel Hassan Sayyad-Khodayari was an attempt to inflame Iran’s leadership and undermine diplomacy.
Critics of the JCPOA say the IRGC listing reflects its regional role and alliances with Hezbollah, Ansar Allah in Yemen, armed Iraqi groups, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They take comfort from statements from State Department spokesman Ned Price that the issue of IRGC listing is separate from the nuclear negotiations and requires further assurances or concessions from Tehran.
Decision on IRGC listing
Bennett said Tuesday that Biden had informed him April 24 that he had decided not to remove the IRGC listing. Bennett sadi he had agreed not to reveal this but had done so once an article appeared in Politico.
While the Israeli leadership’s opposition to the JCPOA led to tensions with the incoming Biden administration, given the latter’s commitment to reviving the agreement, Bennett now described his recent contacts with Biden as close.
“I laud the US administration, and first and foremost my friend, President Joe Biden, on his intention to leave the Revolutionary Guards where they belong – on the terror list,” Bennett said Tuesday. “President Biden is a true friend of Israel who is concerned with its security and continued fortitude.”
With feelings in Tehran running high after the Sayyad-Khodayari assassination Sunday, and continued pressure for some retaliation for the US 2020 killing of IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, the Iranian leadership has appeared wary of compromise and has insisted that the delisting of the Guards is a ‘red line’ in the nuclear talks.
A recent visit to Tehran by Enrique Mora, the senior European Union official chairing the year-long nuclear talks in Vienna between Iran and six world powers, raised hopes of a breakthrough but appears to have produced nothing tangible. Likewise, nothing evident has emerged from Qatari attempts at mediation.
In Washington, senators eagerly await Malley’s appearance at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a variety of hopes and expectations.
“I want Rob Malley to give an honest assessment of the status of negotiations and make the case for why diplomacy is the only viable path to keep Iran from a nuclear weapon,” Connecticut’s Democrat Senator Chris Murphy told Iran International Tuesday. “I don't think the US or our allies should be involved in the business of assassination…ratcheting up political assassination frankly puts all of us at risk, and isn't a good practice for democratic nations.”
But Rick Scott, a Republican representing Florida, said the talks were at a dead end. “What I would hope to hear [from Malley] is that they're not going to do anything, because the Iranians still chant death to Israel…They still have death threats on American citizens.”
Reflecting a sense in Washington that Malley needed to clarify and explain the strategy of the Biden administration,Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville opposed renewing the JCPOA but ruled out military means. “There's no way we can allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he told Iran International. “No way.”
Gabriel Noronha, a State Department special Iran adviser during the Trump administration, said he expected Malley to be “raked over the coals.”