The Biden administration’s mixed messages regarding the nuclear deal ahead of indirect talks with Iran are “very troubling,” the Jerusalem Post cited senior Israeli officials as saying, with one accusing Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley of “acting like he’s from the U.N.” and not a representative of the American people.
The remarks came in the wake of Malley’s comments to PBS Friday, after the U.S. announced that it would join indirect talks with Iran beginning next week in Vienna.
Malley (pictured) told PBS the U.S. would “have to lift [the Trump administration’s] sanctions that are inconsistent….with the deal that was reached with Iran… so that Iran enjoys the benefits that it was supposed to enjoy under the deal.”
The entire interview was couched in terms of equivalence, with Malley repeatedly expressed his concern over the U.S. and Iran’s “mutual distrust” as well as the need for a “mutual return” to compliance with the deal.
A senior Israeli official said: “If this is American policy, we are concerned.”
The interview, he went on, “raised eyebrows” at the highest levels in Israel because it was a departure from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s own pledge to secure a “longer and stronger” deal.
“In the past, the Biden administration talked about a ‘longer and stronger’ deal – like they were looking for something else – and that’s not [in the Malley interview]. It’s all about returning to the 2015 deal,” the source said.
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“Nowhere in the entire interview does Malley say the goal is to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” he said. “Nowhere does he accuse the Iranians of any bad behavior… Nowhere in the interview does he talk about the importance of consultations with American allies in the region.”
“In the old deal, snapback sanctions disappear in 2025,” the Israeli official added. “In 2030, all nuclear restrictions end. Even the Europeans say it’s terrible that Iran is developing uranium metal. That becomes legal in 2030. Is that the deal they want to go back to?”
Malley told PBS: “The goal is to see whether we can agree on what steps the United States needs to take to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and what steps Iran has to take to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal.”
“It’s not a matter of who has the greater weight,” Malley said. “It’s whether both sides are prepared to carry the burden that they have to come back into compliance.”
He further warned against the U.S. or Iran being too rigid in their positions.
“If either side takes a maximalist position and says that the other side has to do everything first before it’s going to move one inch, I think it’s hard to see how this succeeds,” he said.
The Post cited the Israeli official as saying: “He’s acting like he’s from the UN, saying both sides have distrust of each other.”
He added the Biden administration may see “a moment of opportunity because there is no government in Israel,” and believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not respond to the Vienna talks since his focus has been on domestic matters, including the election deadlock.
However, as the Post noted, the Israeli premier will be giving major public speeches in the coming weeks, on Holocaust Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, occasions on which he traditionally warns against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Blinken spoke on Friday with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and according to a source with knowledge on the matter, the American diplomat said that a gradual approach with Iran that would lead to a “sharpened” nuclear deal. However, the official also said that opinions are split within the Biden administration.
The impression Blinken gave is that the Biden administration “is not pinning its hopes” on the talks in Vienna this week and is “not expecting a breakthrough.”
“They understand Iran is leaning toward refusing any new declarations or plans… Iran has a tough stance of returning to the JCPOA and removing all sanctions,” the official said.