Focus in the Iran nuclear talks is in Washington today as special envoy Rob Malley briefs Congresspeople, and critics request disclosure of all talks details.
Eighteen months after efforts began between Iran and six world powers to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, negotiations are on hold after Iran and the United States exchanged messages following a European Union text circulated August 8 suggesting ways forward.
In a statement to the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency Tuesday, the US said that while it was ready “to quickly implement…mutual return to full implementation” of the 2015 agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), “what we lack is a willing partner in Iran.”
Tehran, which began exceeding the deal’s nuclear limits the year after the US left it in 2018, has attributed the pause in talks to the US being unwilling to accept Iranian ‘red lines’ – including ‘guarantees’ designed to cushion Iran against another US withdrawal – as well as to domestic political US politics.
Some analysts have argued that President Joe Biden does not want Iran to become an issue in November 8 Congressional elections, where the Democrats hope to retain control of the Senate. Critics of the JCPOA, who are disproportionately though not exclusively Republicans, tend to see any airing of Biden’s approach to Iran as a possible vote-winner.
Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said in his press briefing Tuesday the administration was “not going to detail…publicly” its recent feedback on the August 8 EU text. Price did say Iran had in its latest input taken a “step backwards in many ways.” But he added: “This is a negotiation. There are going to be back-and-forths. Some gaps have closed in recent weeks, but others clearly remain.”
Motion for Congress to see deal proposals
Iran envoy Rob Malley briefing the Senate on May 25, 2022
With US officials, including Malley, due to brief members of the House of Representatives today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 1pm is due to discuss a motion from Virginia Foxx, a Republican. Raised in July, the motion requests the president “transmit certain documents to the House of Representatives relating to any initiative or negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program.” Under current legislation, it is believed the administration would submit to Congress any text over reviving the JCPOA only once agreement was reached.
In his press briefing Tuesday Price denied reports, arising from briefings given by an Israeli official accompanying Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Germany, that Malley had been sidelined. “There is nothing to those reports,” Price said. “I can tell you Rob is deeply engaged day-to-day on the substance of this. He is leading a team here at the department.”
Opponents of the JCPOA, although they mostly backed President Trump leaving the agreement and imposing ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions through presidential actions, have accused the Biden administration of trying to sideline Congress. Defending the administration’s record, Price spoke Tuesday of State Department officials, “including Rob,” being “up on the Hill [Capitol Hill, Congress] a number of times briefing relevant committees on our efforts to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.”
Ulyanov: No new resolution at IAEA board
One aspect of the nuclear talks concerning JCPOA critics have been reports, denied by US officials, that the administration has been ready to soften its demand that Iran fully satisfy the IAEA over uranium traces found in sites not declared as nuclear-related. While the US, alongside three European states, moved a motion censuring Tehran at the IAEA board in June, no further action was expected at this week’s quarterly board meeting.
Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA, tweeted Wednesday that discussion of Iran at the board had passed with “no resolution or decision…Just exchange of views.”