Top Biden envoy pushes back on criticism of Iran strategy

Oct 31, 2022, 9:42 AM | Updated: 9:55 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — A top Biden administration official on Monday pushed back against growing criticism from Iranian American activists who are calling on the White House to abandon its efforts to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal.

The U.S. special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, said that the administration “makes no apology” for “trying to do everything we can to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” The White House has become increasingly pessimistic about reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement but has stopped short of declaring the deal dead.

The White House has faced growing pressure to scuttle the deal altogether following the Islamic government’s brutal crackdown of a women-led protest movement and Tehran’s decision to send hundreds of drones to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine.

Malley said that lost in the debate is that as the administration has pursued an Iran nuclear deal, it has also continued to pile sanctions on Iranian officials.

The administration announced sanctions against Iranian officials for the brutal treatment of demonstrators after last month’s death of a young Iranian woman while in the custody of Iranian security forces. The administration has also hit Iran with sanctions for supplying drones and technical assistance to Russia and ordered U.S. military strikes in August against Iranian-backed militias in Syria in response to attacks on U.S. forces in the region.

“I think people have to understand that they were not tying our hands because of … this hope that someday maybe there’ll be a deal,” Malley said during an appearance at a virtual event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank. “No, we are taking action. We’re not waiting. We’re taking the action that we think is consistent and necessary to promote our values and our national security interests.”

The Biden administration this month levied new sanctions against Iran over the crackdown on antigovernment protests spurred by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Morality police had detained Amini last month for not properly covering her hair with the Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

At least 270 people have been killed and 14,000 arrested, according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran. Demonstrations have continued, even as the feared paramilitary Revolutionary Guard has warned young Iranians to stop.

The White House has also said that Iranian troops are “directly engaged on the ground” in Crimea supporting Russian drone attacks on Ukraine’s power stations and other key infrastructure. The Iranians have provided the technical assistance after selling the Russians — desperate for precision guided weapons — hundreds of the drones. The Iranian government has denied selling Moscow drones or providing it with assistance.

The Iran nuclear deal already has been teetering toward collapse despite President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive it since August, with his administration saying Tehran has sought to push extraneous issues into the indirect talks. Still, the administration has not given up all hope for a turnaround.

The pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, would provide Tehran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program to the limits set by the 2015 deal.

The deal was brokered by the Obama administration before being abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018. It includes caps on enrichment and how much material Iran can stockpile and limits the operation of advanced centrifuges needed to enrich.

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Top Biden envoy pushes back on criticism of Iran strategy