US Eyes Diplomatic Outcome on Iran Nuclear Issue

US Eyes Diplomatic Outcome on Iran Nuclear Issue
US Eyes Diplomatic Outcome on Iran Nuclear Issue

US Iran envoy Rob Malley expressed renewed interest Tuesday in pursuing a diplomatic solution to address Tehran’s nuclear issue.
“Our goal is to reach a diplomatic outcome with Iran that would verifiably ensure that Iran can’t acquire a nuclear weapon [an objective Tehran says will never pursue],” Malley told National Public Radio in an interview broadcast on Tuesday.
“We are not there yet, of course,” Malley continued, claiming that it was Iran last August that “turned its back on a very realistic deal.”
“We hope that we can resolve this through diplomatic means, and we’re prepared to go down that path,” he said.
The comments, echoing those of US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan earlier this month, came after months of seeming US hesitation to express interest in resuming nuclear diplomacy with Iran. “The JCPOA is not on the agenda,” American officials had said for many months, referring to the acronym formal name for the 2015 pact, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the Trump administration quit in 2018, though Iran had been complying with it.
The Biden administration’s hesitation about pursuing nuclear diplomacy with Iran seems now to have been eclipsed by concerns about Iran’s advancing nuclear program and the risk for military escalation.
“We are … engaging Iran diplomatically regarding its nuclear program, and we continue to believe that it was a tragic mistake to leave the deal with nothing at all to replace it,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy May 4.
“We are going to continue to take action to … deter Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and then to seek a diplomatic solution that puts this on a long-term pathway of stability,” Sullivan said.
The Biden administration officials’ recent comments, however, suggested that whatever diplomatic outcome the US would be prepared to pursue now, it may not be a revival of the JCPOA. Nor does it seem, at least in the near term, that the US is exploring a diplomatic option through the format of the so-called “P5+1”—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany which negotiated with Iran to reach the 2015 deal—but seemingly an understanding that might be reached between the US and Iran, possibly with third country mediation.
Biden National Security Council Middle East advisor Brett McGurk traveled to Oman on May 8 to discuss with the Omanis if the Iranians would be “open to taking to steps that would put some limits on their nuclear program and de-escalate the regional situation and what they would want in return,” Axios reported Tuesday.


Expectation Gap

“I think that it’s true that it was difficult for us to engage in negotiations when Iran was [faced with domestic protests last fall],” an American analysist told the Diplomatic news website. “But now that the dust has settled, the problem of Iran’s nuclear proliferation is looming large again, and so obviously, the US has to pursue a diplomatic solution to try to curb Iran’s activities.”
“It’s a question of priorities,” the analyst said. “I think that there’s a change in how the US perceives key concerns about Iran’s activity… I think the nuclear issue is once again … flashing red.”
But he expressed skepticism that even an interim nuclear deal is possible in the near term, and suggested what was likely being explored was much more modest.
“I do not believe that an interim agreement is… realistically achievable,” he said. “The expectation gap between Iran and the US is just so large that it’s not really bridgeable in the time that remains in this administration.
“But it is completely natural for the Biden administration … to try to find a way of preventing tensions over Iran’s nuclear program from boiling over,” he said. 
“Having diplomatic contacts, especially in an indirect format, does not mean that a deal is possible or at hand.”
A senior European diplomat agreed. “Nothing is moving” the European diplomat said Tuesday.
“We have a credible diplomatic path, but we also have a credible deterrence path”
Malley seemed to acknowledge that the nuclear issue has risen again to the top of the list of US concerns with Iran.
He said, “Our intelligence community has made the assessment public that we believe that at this point, they have not made the decision to pursue a bomb,” Malley said.
Tehran says its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes and denies any military aspects to its activities.
“We will use deterrence to make clear to them that all options are on the table if we conclude that they’re taking steps tantamount to a decision to acquire a bomb, but we will also pursue diplomacy, because we think that’s the most verifiable and sustainable way to [address the issue],” he asserted.  

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