US envoy visiting Middle East to discuss 'broad range' of Iran concerns

Robert Malley is visiting the UAE, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain ahead of seventh round of indirect talks with Iran in Vienna

Robert Malley, US Special Envoy for Iran, in Vienna in June. AP
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US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley was headed to the UAE and other countries in the region on Thursday to discuss a "broad range of concerns" about Tehran ahead of the next round of indirect nuclear talks, the State Department said.

He will visit the UAE, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the nine-day trip, his second in less than a month to the region.

“He will co-ordinate our approaches on a broad range of concerns with Iran, including its destabilising activities in the region and the upcoming seventh round of talks on a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]," the State Department said.

The indirect talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers are set to resume later this month. After months of stalling, the Iranian government agreed to return to talks in Vienna on November 29.

Iran's chief negotiator and deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani said the goal would be the removal of sanctions on Tehran.

“We agreed to start the negotiations aiming at removal of unlawful and inhumane sanctions on 29 November in Vienna,” Mr Kani tweeted earlier this month.

US President Joe Biden's administration has said full compliance by Iran with the 2015 nuclear deal would be needed before any lifting of sanctions.

Tehran has increased its uranium enrichment levels to 60 per cent from 20 per cent in recent months. It has also restricted access to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into its facilities.

But the US said an agreement still could be reached quickly if Iran was serious about the talks.

"If the Iranians are serious, we can manage to do that in relatively short order,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week.

“But we’ve also been clear, including as this pause has dragged on for some time, that this window of opportunity will not be open forever.”

On Thursday, the US announced the launch of four-way naval exercises in the Red Sea with the UAE, Bahrain and Israel.

The five-day exercises are aimed at enhancing interoperability between participating forces' maritime interdiction teams.

"Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability,” US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said.

The US has accused Iran of destabilising activity in Gulf waters through the hijacking of tankers, the use of limpet mines and drone attacks.

Israel this year was placed under the US military's Central Command instead of its European Command.

The move, US officials said, was aimed boosting security co-operation between regional partners following the Abraham Accords that normalised relations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.

Updated: November 11, 2021, 3:40 PM