5.9k Share this
A top member of the U.S. team negotiating with Iran has left the role after urging a tougher stance on nuclear talks.
A State Department official confirmed that Richard Nephew, known as the architect of sanctions on Tehran, had stepped down as U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Iran.
At the same time, the Wall Street Journal reported that two other negotiators had stepped aside because they wanted a harder negotiating position.
The team’s policy differences reportedly involved the enforcement of existing sanctions and even pulling out of the talks altogether.
Their departures, another blow to President Joe Biden’s foreign policy goals and a State Department grappling with Russian diplomats who appear poised for conflict in Ukraine, come at a critical time in talks that resumed two months ago.
Western diplomats say they hope for a breakthrough in the coming weeks – but critical differences remain between the two sides and Britain on Tuesday warned of a looming impasse.
Meanwhile the Biden administration has been grappling with bipartisan criticism at home that it’s taken too soft a stance against Iran as the Middle Eastern nation builds up its nuclear capabilities at breakneck speed.
A State Department official declined to comment on the specifics of internal policy discussions.
A State Department official confirmed that Richard Nephew was no longer deputy special envoy for Iran but was still working at the State Department
Nuclear talks resumed in Vienna, Austria, in November but have made little progress. Iran refuses to talk directly with American negotiators. As a result European diplomats have to carry communications between separate rooms but the effort has stalled
The Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, saying its destabilizing impact in the Middle East and developments in rocket technology put Iran in breach
‘The previous administration left us with a terrible set of choices on Iran,’ he said.
‘Maximum pressure failed, leaving Iran with a rapidly expanding nuclear program and a more aggressive regional posture. At the same time, we were isolated from many of our closest allies and partners.
‘Working our way out of this crisis requires many difficult, closely balanced decisions, on which there can be reasonable disagreement.’
Nephew, who wanted Biden to take a harder stance against Iran, has reportedly been avoiding the meetings in Vienna since December.
That same month, senior American officials involved in the talks began pushing for an end after Iran sent in a new negotiating team that reneged on most concessions made by its previous officials, sources close to the discussion told the Journal.
Talks on returning to the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration resumed in Vienna last year, under the direction of Antony Blinken’s State Department.
However, they have been complicated by Tehran’s refusal to talk directly with American officials. Instead, communications are shuttled between separate rooms by European diplomats.
But with the clock ticking, Western officials fear it is only a matter of weeks before Iran obtains the material and know-how to produce enough fuel for a nuclear bomb.
The result was reportedly difference of opinion within the U.S. team about whether to halt talks in the face of Iran’s foot-dragging and how firmly to enforce existing sanctions.
Under the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, sanctions were lifted in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear program.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Tuesday told lawmakers that negotiations were ‘reaching a dangerous impasse’ and told Iran it must decide if it wants a deal
When President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions in 2018, Iran returned to enriching uranium.
The Biden administration believes the best way forward is a return to the 2015 deal.
Iran says it also wants a return to the deal, but has rejected talk of an interim agreement in the meantime and wants a legal guarantee that the U.S. will not walk away from the JCPOA again.
State Dept. official who engineered Obama’s Iran sanctions pulls out of Biden’s nuclear deal negotiations after pushing for harsher footing against Tehran
Richard Nephew, the Deputy Special Envoy for the State Department’s negotiations with Iran, left his role after urging the Biden administration to take a tougher stance in the nuclear talks.
Widely regarded as an expert on sanctions policy, Nephew was named the Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy in Barack Obama’s State Department in January 2013.
In the role he engineered sanctions against Iran that helped forced Tehran into signing the historic JCPOA.
He reportedly thought the United States was taking too soft an approach to an Iran that not only rebuffed agreements its previous government made but is also building up its nuclear capabilities at a break-neck pace.
The British Foreign Secretary spelled out the scale of the problem on Tuesday.
‘This negotiation is urgent and progress has not been fast enough. We continue to work in close partnership with our allies but the negotiations are reaching a dangerous impasse,’ Liz Truss told the British parliament.
‘Iran must now choose whether it wants to conclude a deal or be responsible for the collapse of the JCPOA.
‘And if the JCPOA collapses, all options are on the table.’
Iran has been building up its nuclear capabilities at an alarming rate despite multiple attacks by Israeli operatives, including the assassination of one of Tehran’s top nuclear scientists.
But a recent report from late 2021 claims that Israel’s attempts to destroy key Iranian nuclear facilities have not only led to their reconstruction but also with major improvements to their technology.
A top American official called it Iran’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan, according to the New York Times.
Late last spring Iranians elected a new president, Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative former judge who is highly critical of the West.
Raisi has previously signaled a willingness to return to the nuclear deal, though his government’s expansion of its nuclear capabilities throws doubt on whether he meant it.
Iran’s Foreign Minister said on Monday that it was possible the nuclear talks could get to a stage where U.S. and Iranian negotiators can finally speak directly in one room.
‘Reports saying that Iran and the U.S. are directly negotiating with one another are untrue,’ Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said according to Al Jazeera.
‘However, if we get to a stage where reaching a good deal with strong guarantees necessitates direct talks with the U.S., we will consider it.’
The State Department on Monday repeated that it is open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal, as well as other issues.
Source: Daily Mail