Robert Malley, President Biden’s special envoy for Iran, said Wednesday that the US is prepared to compromise on “difficult issues” related to the nuclear deal if Tehran was willing to do the same, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.
The indirect negotiations between the US and Iran to revive the JCPOA have been on hold since Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president. Malley said he hopes the new government comes to the negotiating table “with a realistic approach.”
Raisi is viewed as a hardliner, but he has endorsed a JCPOA revival if the US is willing to return to its commitments. The Biden administration’s refused to lift all Trump-era sanctions on Iran, forcing Tehran to make a significant concession by entering negotiations.
Raisi’s predecessor Hassan Rouhani said the US and Iran reached an agreement that would entail the US lifting most major sanctions. But the two sides ultimately couldn’t finalize the deal. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed additional US demands for the stalled talks.
Khamenei said in July that the US wanted to add a sentence to the JCPOA that would commit Iran to enter follow-on negotiations on other issues, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program. “By putting this sentence, they want to provide an excuse for their further interventions on the principle of [the deal] and missile program and regional issues,” he said. “If Iran refuses to discuss them, they will say that you have violated the agreement and the agreement is over.”
For the Iranian side, they want the US to provide guarantees that it would not withdraw from the JCPOA again. Tehran also seeks verification methods for sanctions relief. Khamenei said that the US did not want to commit to either condition.
Malley’s comments suggest that the US might be willing to discuss these issues, but it’s unclear when the talks will restart. Biden is also under a lot of pressure not to give Iran sanctions relief from Israel and Iran hawks in Congress. It’s unlikely he is willing to take a stand on this issue, especially as he is under fire for his Afghanistan withdrawal.