US envoy: We're preparing contingency plans if Iran talks fail

Special envoy Robert Malley says US and European allies could sanction Iran if talks on return to 2015 nuclear deal fail.

Elad Benari ,

Nuclear talks in Vienna
Nuclear talks in Vienna

Robert Malley, the special US envoy for Iran, told Politico on Thursday that the US is preparing some contingency plans should the talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal not succeed.

One of those contingencies, he said, would be that Washington and Tehran sign a wholly separate deal, complete with different parameters than the current accord. Another is a suite of punitive responses in coordination with European allies, though Malley would not specifically detail what those would be.

Malley did say that, in his mind, it’s only logical that “a return to the deal is in the cards,” since both the United States and Iran — even under new President Ebrahim Raisi — have said that’s what they want. The delay, he claimed, is due to mistrust sowed during the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign and the political transition in Iran.

“But there is absolute justification to have a question mark, because if you haven’t reached [a deal] yet, the talks drag on. If Iran’s nuclear advances progress, and Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps, not even mentioning their regional provocations … that pulls in the other direction” — meaning away from an agreement, Malley said.

“It at least makes us very aware of the fact that it is certainly not a done deal, that it’s a legitimate question whether we will be able to come back, and that we have to be prepared for a world in which Iran’s intentions are not to go back into the [pact], at least not in a realistic way,” he added.

Iran has gradually scaled back its compliance with the 2015 deal it signed with world powers in response to former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement in May of 2018.

While the Islamic Republic has been holding indirect talks with the Biden administration on a return to the agreement, it recently paused the talks and announced they will not resume before the new government takes office.

This week, the US urged Iran to return to the negotiating table.

"We have made clear that continued nuclear escalations beyond JCPOA limits are unconstructive and inconsistent with a return to mutual compliance," State Department spokesman Ned Price said, using the acronym for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is the official name for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

"Iran should cease its nuclear escalations and return to negotiations toward full implementation of the JCPOA in good faith," he added.