Problems with Iran have gotten worse in the past two years despite talks over its nuclear program, US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley told the BBC’s Hard Talk.
Asked If he would acknowledge that the two-year diplomatic effort has failed, Malley said, “Diplomacy never ends as we do other things,” adding that the Biden administration has added sanctions, tried to contain Iran in the region and “mobilized the international community.”
However, he acknowledged that relations with Iran have worsened since the Biden administration came to office and started indirect talks with Tehran in April 2021.
The negotiation ended in deadlock in September, as US said Iran presented “extraneous” demands.
Pressed to acknowledge if the 2015 nuclear accord known as the JCPOA is dead, Malley avoided a direct answer, saying that Iran “turned down multiple opportunities to end this crisis…so you could reach your own conclusion.” He reiterated that the US is willing to continue talks with Iran “to reach a diplomatic outcome.”
Following the brutal and deadly suppression of protests in Iran many US politicians and Iranian activists have demanded an official end to the talks aimed at reviving the JCPOA, abandoned by former President Donald Trump in 2018.
Iranian activists have been demanding Malley's resignation, seeing him as an advocate of unending talks with the Islamic Republic, instead of opting for more pressure.
Malley reiterated that diplomacy is still the priority for the administration and a military option is only “a last resort,” apparently meaning to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon. He added that the military option “is a very difficult option, a very dangerous option that President Biden would not engage in cavalierly.”
On the issue of how long the administration is willing to continue diplomacy with Iran when a point comes that it seems useless, Malley confirmed that the US has been sending “messages to Iran, but let’s not overstate,” and call it negotiations. He insisted that the US needs to convey messages, including about possible consequences if Iran supplies ballistic missiles to Russia.
When asked, Malley did not deny an Iran International report recently that he held three meetings with Iran's ambassador at the United Nations.
Asked if expanding close US and Israeli military cooperation and large joint military exercises are aimed at sending a message to Iran, Malley said these steps are designed to show that the US “has Israel’s back and we will work with Israel,” on protecting shared interests. He also said the drills aimed to demonstrate that regardless of what is happening in Europe “we could do other things, we could mobilize to defend our interests.”
In responding to a question if the administration is “compartmentalizing” its policy toward Iran, in terms of separating the nuclear issue from the gross violations of human rights, Malley said, “There is a degree to which we have to, in the sense that we can do two things,” support the people in Iran and defend the US national interest in not allowing Iran to go nuclear. He added “there is no contradiction between these two.”
The US envoy also defended the administration’s efforts in supporting the protest movement in Iran, citing frequent statements by President Joe Biden and his top officials and mobilizing international support to expel Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women in December. However, Malley reiterated that US “is not in the business of regime change.”
Malley praised the convergence of positions with Europe regarding Iran and said Tehran had a clear choice of returning to its obligations under the JCPOA, and to stop supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine. He added that US is not asking something “tantamount to surrender” but a “realistic choice, which is in their hands.”