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US envoy for Iran admits Trump’s maximum pressure campaign ‘failed miserably’

Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran, was part of the US negotiating team that worked out the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015. (Photo by AFP)

The US special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, has admitted that the maximum pressure campaign pushed by the former president Donald Trump's administration against the Islamic Republic “failed miserably” and “hurt US interests”.

Speaking on a television show hosted by MSNBC journalist Mehdi Hasan, Malley said Iran’s nuclear program accelerated only after the former US president launched his maximum pressure campaign.

Malley is Biden’s point man for Iran, tasked with reviving the 2015 nuclear accord that Trump unilaterally abandoned in 2018. He was part of the US negotiating team that worked out the deal in 2015.

Asked whether the US should be the first to extend an olive branch and rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as Iran nuclear deal, the envoy moved the goalposts quickly.

“We said very clearly we are prepared to come back into the deal if they’re prepared to do their part,” Malley said, adding that the US “will lift sanctions” if Iran returns to full compliance with its nuclear obligations under the JCPOA.

Malley, who had been in Vienna as Iran and P4+1 countries engaged in marathon negotiations to resurrect the dying deal, said “ideas” were put on the table about removing sanctions that Trump had imposed on Iran “in violation of the deal”.

He also slammed the Trump administration’s decision to assassinate Iran’s top anti-terror commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, saying it “made America less safe”.

The show host referred to Trump's recent remarks that he ordered the assassination because he was “under pressure” from his party senators before his impeachment trial.

He also cited a report that Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had warned Trump not to strike the top Iranian commander, saying it would spark war.

“Don’t the Iranian government and the Iranian people have a right to be outraged by these revelations that the US killed Iran’s top general for domestic political purposes, that the US top general had to prevent the US President from starting a war with Iran for nakedly political reasons,” Mehdi asked.

Milley, pushed on the back foot, agreed that the Trump administration’s move “invited more trouble rather than de-escalating tensions”

“The American people have a right to be outraged with the fact that a policy that was designed to keep America safe, by killing Qassem Soleimani, by imposing a maximum pressure campaign,” the envoy said in his response. “Three years on, the verdict is clear, America is less safe because Iran has a more expansive nuclear program and because it accelerated and intensified its regional activities.”

Gen. Soleimani, the celebrated anti-Daesh commander, was assassinated in a US airstrike near Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020. It led to heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Vienna talks in stalemate

In an editorial published on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal said Iran’s latest demand is that the US agree to a clause that makes American withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal contingent on the United Nations' approval, since it was the US that unilaterally withdrew from the deal.

The newspaper, doing Washington's bidding, termed the clause “unconstitutional”, asserting that the US president “can’t stop a future Congress or President from changing policy, especially when the nuclear agreement was never submitted to the Senate for ratification as a treaty.”

It further stated that President Biden, like his former boss Barack Obama, would not submit the deal for a Senate vote “because he knows it would be unlikely to get a simple majority, much less the two-thirds needed to ratify a treaty.”

“Giving the UN more sway than Congress over US foreign policy would be a gross abdication of the President’s oath of office,” the editorial noted.

The ongoing talks in Vienna have been temporarily shelved due to the transition of power in Tehran, but Iran has made it emphatically clear that it is the US that must make the first move.

Iranian officials have repeatedly called on their US counterparts to “take tough decisions” to revive the deal, but the Biden administration has so far refused to budge from its stand.

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