US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley says President Joe Biden is prepared for a military option to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon in case sanctions and diplomacy fail.
During an interview with Foreign Policy’s podcast Playlist released on Wednesday, Malley said that the US and Iran came very close to reaching an agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear deal – or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- many times in the past two years, the latest of which was in August, but each time Iran stepped back and came up with new demands that often had nothing to do with the nuclear talks.
“We'll have the sanctions, pressure and diplomacy. If none of that works, the President has said, and, as a last resort, he will agree to a military option because if that’s what it takes to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, that’s what will happen. But we’re not there," he said.
Defending the Biden administration’s efforts to keep diplomacy as an option and criticizing the Trump administration for its maximum-pressure campaign, he said, “We owe it to ourselves to have an honest examination of how sanctions work and how they don’t work.”
The Iranian system as a whole is divided, and not yet concluded whether they really want to come back to the deal, and so each time Tehran was presented with a deal, even about the deals that were considered fair by other parties such as Russia and China, Iran was the one that walked back.
The Palais Coburg, the venue of Iran nuclear talks in Vienna
“Iran has rejected countless opportunities to come back to the deal... We are prepared for a world with the JCPOA and without the JCPOA. We’ve continued to put pressure on Iran... We made sure there are sanctions for their support for terrorism, their human rights violations, for their ballistic missile program and for their nuclear program,” he added. “The JCPOA is not on the agenda because of Iran’s position, and we’re continuing with our policy to respond to all of Iran’s destabilizing activities.”
Malley also said reviving the deal would be dead when the non-proliferation benefits of the deal do not justify or warrant the sanctions relief that the US is ready to offer, emphasizing that the US focus and energy are not on the deal. Currently, the focus is on what is happening in Iran and its support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
He also talked about many troubling issues emanating from Iran, saying the US supports aspirations of the Iranian people to achieve the fundamental rights and freedoms that all peoples across the globe should enjoy. “We are mobilizing international attention, putting the spotlight on what’s happening in Iran. It’s very important that the world know at a time when the Iranian regime is trying to hide what’s happening and to distort what’s happening,” he said.
The administration has also put the spotlight on developments in Iran by sanctioning those up and down the chain who are violating the basic rights of the Iranian people, “whether it’s a top leadership or whether it’s an anonymous person in a prison,” Malley noted. “The world should know who is behind that repression.”
He also said Washington is pushing for measures against the Islamic Republic in international bodies, mentioning the resolution at the UN Human Rights Council and the move to kick out Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. “It’s an aberration, a complete anomaly, that Iran would be on the commission that is supposed to defend the rights of women when they are repressing them,” he added.
The US will continue to voice its support for the Iranians who are protesting for their rights, he reiterated, saying that “it's an extraordinary page in Iran’s history that’s being written right now.”
Praising “the courage, the determination, the persistence and the creativity of Iranians, particularly women and girls,” Malley said “we’re not going to be the authors; we can be there to express support for the fundamental rights of Iranians. This page will be written by Iranians themselves. It won’t be written in Washington, in London or anywhere around the globe other than Iran.”
Also on Wednesday, The US secretary of state says that the Islamic Republic has a deeply incorrect understanding of its people and is trying to blame others for the current protests.