The US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley told National Public Radio Tuesday that last week’s Qatar talks between Tehran and Washington had been a waste of time.

“The European Union – in its role as coordinator – wanted to try one more effort, at least one more effort, and so they invited both delegations (from Iran and US) to meet them in Doha in the hope that Iranians would show something, some willingness to get to yes,” said Malley, who led United States negotiators in Doha, in an NPR interview Tuesday.

Malley said the European Union – whose leading official Enrique Mora acted as a go-between in Qatar – had “put on the table very detailed outlines of what they think a fair outcome would be, and we’ve said we’re prepared to take that deal; the party that has not said yes is Iran.”

Malley said Iranian negotiators “seem at this point not capable of providing answers,” making the indirect, or ‘proximity’, talks “more than a little bit of a wasted occasion.”

“The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we're prepared to have that,” Malley said. “It's between Iran and itself…They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal.” He suggested Tehran had not made the “fundamental decision” as to whether they wanted to renew the 2015 deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), which the US left in 2018.

New demands

Malley said Iran had in Doha added new demands, though he gave no details, and he gave no deadline over the negotiations, which are expected to resume after President Joe Biden’s mid-July Middle East trip.

Questioned over Iran’s growing stockpile of highly enriched uranium, Malley said Tehran was “a matter of weeks” from having enough for a bomb. “It would be something that we would know…and we would react quite forcefully, as you can imagine,” he said.

Malley reiterated the Biden administration’s view that “a very dangerous situation” had been created by President Donald Trump leaving the JCPOA in 2018, when the agreement was “working.”

“They’re much closer [now] to having enough fissile material for a bomb,” Malley said. “To our knowledge they have not resumed their weaponization program…but we are of course alarmed, as are our partners, about the progress they’ve made in the enrichment field and that’s why we think getting back to the deal is in our non-proliferation interest. We think it’s in their interests because they’d get sanctions lifted, but of course that’s an assessment that they alone have to make.”

Brokered by the European Union, two-day talks in the Qatari capital aimed at breaking a three-month impasse in negotiations for attaining a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA, but both sides left disappointed.Tehran blames Washington’s refusal to guarantee Iran’s effective access to world markets, as required by the JCPOA, for lack of progress in the proximity talks, but says agreement is possible if the US is “realistic.

The EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who arranged the Qatar talks on a visit to Tehran June 25-6, tweeted Tuesday, after a phone call with Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, that “decisions are needed now” as the “political space to revive the JCPOA may narrow soon.”

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