U.S. forces do not have a viable military option to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program, according to President Joe Biden’s point man for nuclear negotiations with the rogue regime.

“By far the best option is a diplomatic one, and [the] military option cannot resolve this issue,” State Department special envoy Rob Malley said Wednesday during a Senate hearing. "It could set it back, and we're happy to talk about it more in a classified setting, but there is no military response. ... The only real solution is a diplomatic one."


That statement helped account for Malley’s continuing participation in a sluggish negotiation over the rehabilitation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a process that has protracted in defiance of repeated U.S. claims that the window of opportunity would close if Iran refused to come to an agreement. Yet Malley’s assessment did little to clarify the administration’s “Plan B” in the event that the talks fail, as he acknowledged they are likely to do, in the face of bipartisan pressure to move on from the talks.

“Let me ask you this: Why is it that we are still keeping the door open?” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) asked Malley. “Because I get no sense of what that plan is. ... What is the plan?”

Malley touted an array of sanctions enforcement maneuvers undertaken by the administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s announcement during the hearing of a crackdown on an “oil smuggling and money laundering network led by” a senior official in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps's Quds Force, to argue that the administration has not allowed the other threats posed by the regime to fester during the nuclear talks.

“We're not waiting to see what happens with the negotiations to take action on all of the issues that you raised,” he said. “But all of these problems would be much worse and much more difficult and much more interesting if Iran were a threshold state on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb.”

That answer failed to satisfy Menendez, who had recalled in his opening statement Blinken’s assessment in January that “if a deal is not reached in the next few weeks, Iran’s ongoing nuclear advances will make it impossible to return to the JCPOA,” as the 2015 nuclear deal is known.

“In short, Iran has dragged out this process, driving up its demands and exerting its leverage, convincing the world that the United States wants the JCPOA more than the Iranian regime does,” Menendez said in his opening statement. “After months of negotiations, this is the Iran we must contend with, not the Iran you hoped would be driven by practical considerations at the bargaining table.”

Sen. James Risch (R-ID), the senior Republican on the committee, echoed Menendez’s complaint about the continuation of the talks.

“Talks remain stalled, and it’s clear the Iranian regime is negotiating in bad faith as it always does,” he said in his own opening statement. “And while it continues to levy unreasonable demands to re-enter the nuclear deal, instead of prolonging this period of uncertainty, it’s long past time the administration end negotiations and implement a more holistic Iran policy. We’d like to hear about that holistic policy today.”


Malley acknowledged, in his exchange with Risch, that the administration had allowed Iran to prolong the talks beyond the time frame set by senior U.S. officials.

“I apologize — it’s true that we've said things in the past,” he replied when Risch pressed to know when the U.S. could abandon the negotiations. “What has always been our guiding star is what are the nonproliferation benefits that our experts tell us and the intelligence community tells us. But again, being at the table doesn't mean we're waiting.”