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March 18, 2021 4:07 pm

White House Envoy: Iranian Attacks on US Assets ‘Not Really Helping’ Prospects of Return to Nuclear Deal

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

US diplomat Rob Malley. Photo: International Peace Institute.

The White House’s Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley told the Voice of America that Iran-backed attacks against Americans stationed abroad is making it more difficult for the US to engage with Iran on a possible return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

In an interview on Wednesday with VOA Persian, Malley said, “It’s not really helping the climate in the US to have Iranian allies take shots at Americans in Iraq or elsewhere, and the US will respond as it has responded and it will continue to respond.”

Malley said that the US is committed to resuming negotiations with Iran, but added that if the Iranian attacks are “aimed at speeding things up, it’s hard to see how that is going to work.”

He also appeared to indicate that the US may be seeking more than a return to the original 2015 deal, preferring further agreements that will address other issues as well.

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The Iran deal, Malley said, “has shown that it is fragile, and we believe it can be strengthened with a follow-on deal. And we will press Iran and try to convince Iran that it’s in their interest as well to get a follow-on deal.”

“Of course, Iran will have issues that it will want to bring to the table,” he conceded.

On March 9, a bipartisan group of 140 US legislators sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisting that any agreement the Biden administration makes with Iran “must comprehensively address” the Islamic Republic’s burgeoning nuclear program, ballistic-missile program, and continued funding of terrorism.

The letter urges that “restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program must be extended until the regime conclusively demonstrates that it has no interest in a nuclear weapons program;” “diplomacy with Iran must limit not only the production of nuclear material but also ensure that Iran cannot develop a nuclear-capable ballistic missile;” and “Iran’s malign behavior throughout the Middle East must be addressed.”

Malley’s latest statements come as Iran has steadily ratcheted up tensions with the US in recent months, in what is believed to be an attempt to gain leverage in negotiations over a return to the nuclear deal, or even to pressure the US to lift sanctions on Iran before any talks begin.

Iran is believed to be behind a rocket attack on American forces housed at an Iraqi airbase on March 3, as well as a Feb. 15 attack on an airbase near the city of Erbil in northern Iraq, which killed an American civilian contractor and wounded seven other Americans.

President Joe Biden ordered air strikes on Iran-affiliated targets in Syria on Feb. 26, in response to the latter attack.

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