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State Department on Defense Over Iran Talks After Nuclear Negotiator Quits

Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 14, 2021 in Washington, D.C. / Getty Images
• February 15, 2022 5:05 pm

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Following reports that a member of its negotiating team quit the administration last week over opposition to the Biden administration's concessions to Iran, the State Department is defending its ongoing diplomacy with Tehran.

Richard Nephew served as the deputy special envoy for Iran before leaving that post on Dec. 6 "due to a sincere difference of opinion concerning policy," according to a Tuesday tweet by Nephew announcing his departure from the administration. He briefly continued to work at the State Department after leaving the Iran team last year.

A State Department spokesman, speaking only on background, defended the ongoing talks with Iran and told the Washington Free Beacon that Nephew's positions have been mischaracterized in the media.

"It is not true that there was a cartoonish division between people wanting to take harder or softer lines," the official said. "The same people may want to move faster on some issues and slower on others."

Nephew reportedly advocated for a tougher line with Tehran in talks, conflicting with efforts by U.S. Iran envoy Robert Malley to secure a new agreement that will grant Iran billions in cash windfalls. Nephew would not discuss his disagreements, tweeting only that "my views and record have been and continue to be mischaracterized by quite a few people. I do not intend to convey any further details at this time or in public, given the ongoing nature of discussions in Vienna."

Nephew's departure from the negotiating team made waves in Washington, D.C., foreign policy circles, with many taking it as a sign the Biden administration is poised to ink an accord that is weaker than the original 2015 nuclear deal. Republican hawks on Capitol Hill warn that a new nuclear deal with Iran will do little to stop its atomic weapons program and only enrich the hardline regime.

The State Department said that it would not "get into specifics of our internal policy discussion," but praised Nephew for his work.

"Richard Nephew served with distinction for one year as deputy special envoy for Iran," the official said. "Richard made important contributions to Iran policy. We greatly appreciate his service."

Republican lawmakers earlier this month accused the State Department and Malley of silencing Nephew due to his opposing views on a new nuclear deal.

"Mr. Malley is forcing out those who disagree with him," the lawmakers wrote in a Feb. 4 letter first reported by the Free Beacon. "With the recent departure of the deputy special envoy for Iran, Richard Nephew, who was reportedly forced out for advocating a tougher posture against the regime."

The letter went on to request Malley appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Malley testified to Congress on Feb. 8, though he did so only in a classified setting.

Published under: Iran, Iran Nuclear Deal