US Senators Heckled Malley

Bilgehan Alagöz Senior Expert

Malley could not make further statements apart from already known facts in the face of US senators’ questions, thus, he has confirmed that Biden will avoid any assertive Iran initiative.

Robert Malley, who has been harshly criticized by some circles in Washington since he was appointed as the US special envoy to Iran, attended a special public testimony in the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 25. The current situation of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P4+1 countries with the involvement of the US through backchannel diplomacy, which started in 2021 in Vienna and paused last March, and the developments concerning the Iran policy of the USA became the main agenda topic of the testimony. Hence the testimony took place one day after President Biden’s declaration on May 24 through the leaked news to the media that the IRGC will not be removed from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, there was a curiosity about what would Malley say. Likewise, another development that made the testimony attention-grabbing was that the US Department of the Treasury simultaneously added an oil smuggling network that had ties to Russia and helped Iran to the sanction list. According to the announcement, the reason for the sanction is that the relevant network has facilitated the sale of Iranian oil in the name of IRGC Quds Force and Hezbollah, and it made it possible for Iran to continue to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenues in violation of US sanctions.

In the testimony, both statements from the opening speech of Bob Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the questions he directed to Malley had content that criticizes the Iran policy of the Biden administration. While Menendez said that former US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) in 2018 was a mistake, he emphasized that it creates a contradiction to still underline a few week's notices even though the administration last said in January that Iran had a few weeks left to access a nuclear bomb. Similarly, he drew attention to the fact that Iran violates not only the requirements of the JCPOA but also the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He also heckled Malley significantly with his questions at the end of the testimony. He stated that Iran did not limit its ballistic missile program even before Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, it has continued its relations with the proxy forces on a deeper level and continues to cause instability in the region, and it has increased its drone attacks against the US forces and allies, and it still takes the USA citizens as hostages. Therefore, he expressed that the JCPOA is an inefficient agreement that is not able to restrict Iran’s behavior.

As a response to this, it was significant that Malley said if nuclear negotiations reach a successful outcome, the USA will return to the Nuclear Deal, and an improved text will emerge, then it will be evaluated by the Senate according to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. Because until now, the Biden administration has hesitated to express this and sought alternative legal ways for returning to the Deal. According to this statement, it has been officially confirmed that the future of the JCPOA depends on the position of the Senate.

On the other hand, Republican Senator Jim Risch drew attention to Iran’s oil sales to China and underlined that the USA has to impose sanctions not only against Iranian institutions and organizations but also against China if it really wants to prevent this trade. Senator Ron Johnson, another Republican, asked if the Biden administration will provide Israel with the needed weaponry and defensive systems. He also asked if there is a plan B for Israel’s security in the case of not returning to the JCPOA and added that if there is, it should include a rapid transfer of KC-46A, F35, and precision-guided munitions to Israel.

Another important statement of Malley during the testimony was that Russia's role in the negotiations was exaggerated and that the main architect of the process was the European allies. The main reason that directed Malley to make such a defensive statement is that Republicans have recently expressed the administration’s reliance on Russia in the nuclear talks and have been harshly criticizing the process.

Although Malley’s statements did not reveal any new information apart from the already known facts, they confirmed that Biden avoids making any move that can put his party in a difficult position in the midterm elections in November. On the other hand, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stated at Davos Summit on May 26 said that “In fact, the IRGC being on the US blacklist of terrorist groups is a secondary issue that has been magnified by the pro-Israeli lobby and our main priority is the interests of the Iranian nation.” It shows that Iran has removed its demands regarding the IRGC from being a precondition to block nuclear negotiations. In this context, after the IAEA’s meeting of the Board of Governors on June 6 and the final report on Iran to be issued there, it will become clear whether the nuclear negotiations will start again.

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