The United States Special Representative for Iran Rob Malley has officially changed his position on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Previously, Malley stated that the US will continue to negotiate to reach a diplomatic solution on the question of the Iranian nuclear weapons program even after the JCPOA becomes irrelevant. This was contrary to the position of other official representatives of the Biden administration who insisted that the US would examine “other options”. Now Malley claims that the US will not “sit idly” if Iran continues its present behavior of advancing uranium enrichment and does not timely return to the JCPOA.
How should this be interpreted? This seems like an empty threat to intimidate the Khomeinist regime into reversing its progress in uranium enrichment and return to compliance with the JCPOA. This is certainly how Tehran will interpret Malley’s statement. It could however also be a strategic change in US policy on Iran. This seems unlikely however. What does it mean to not “sit idly”? Will the US launch a series of preemptive strikes against the Iranian nuclear weapons program? Again this seems very unlikely although it is possible that the Biden administration is serious this time. If however the Biden administration does not act on Malley’s threat after the JCPOA effectively becomes irrelevant will this confirm to Iran that the US is a paper tiger which has entirely subcontracted to Israel the task of undoing the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
The truth however is that Iran is not frightened by either American or Israeli threats to destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons program since Iran could rebuild its destroyed nuclear weapons program in less than two years. Iran might however be more concerned if the US seriously and credibly threatened to impose a no-fly zone over Iran which would permanently prevent the Iranian nuclear weapons program from being rebuilt since the US could intermittently attack Iranian nuclear installations and the US would offer air support to Iranians staging armed rebellions in response to the imposition of the no-fly zone. This would be truly intimidating for the Iranian regime which would seriously risk losing control over half its population, i.e. the ethnic periphery where most of Iran’s oil resources are located. However, the political culture in the Middle East is to never give in to threats and it is doubtful if threats would lead to any changes in official Iranian behavior. What is known however, is that Iran temporarily froze its nuclear weapons program after the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Rather, the US threat should be that Iran must completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program or the US will destroy it and permanently impose a no-fly zone over Iran that will permanently prevent the regime from rebuilding its nuclear weapons program. The Khomeinist regime however is determined to reach nuclear threshold status and thus supersede the JCPOA and a threat by Rob Malley for Iran to return to the JCPOA “or else” certainly to Iranian ears sounds like no threat at all.
I may be wrong and this may be a true change in US strategy on Iran but Malley’s statement sounds like the US is only further undermining its deterrence posture vis-a-vis Iran by making yet another half-hearted empty threat that the US is not ready to follow through on.