Are we on the brink of a new Iranian crisis? More than three years after former President Donald Trump torched the Iran nuclear deal for no particular reason, Tehran is now only weeks or months far from having enough fuel to build a weapon. If President Biden is interested in any outcome other than Iran testing a nuclear weapon, which would represent a monumental failure of US policy in five administrations, he must rethink the basic parameters of the negotiations that could soon takes place in Vienna.
The Biden administration must first confront severely damaged American credibility. Iran was in full compliance with the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, when Trump vehemently withdrew from the pact – which limited Iranian enrichment activity in exchange for sanctions relief – and imposed tough new sanctions. Whether Trump’s plan was to trap the next Democratic administration in an impossible and politically toxic affair, to carry out an emotionally satisfying act of retaliation against former President Barack Obama, or to indulge in the DC foreign policy fantasy of overthrowing the Iranian regime is only known to the most famous resident of Mar-a-Lago.
Trump’s bet failed predictably and dramatically, as there was never a plan for what would happen next. The Beltway Hawks assumed the regime would creep back to the table and accept less than they got in 2015. They didn’t, especially because Trump’s maneuver destroyed any confidence the elites had. Iranian women had in the United States.
It’s a hell of a mess the Biden team have inherited, but a new deal won’t be easy to put together. Put yourself in the shoes of the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi. What advantage could there be in reverting to an amended version of the Iran deal?
For starters, Trump himself is hiding in the background, threatening to run for the GOP nomination again in 2024, and if he or someone like him were elected president, they would almost certainly torpedo any new deal negotiated. by Biden. No sane leader would subject their country to such monumental uncertainty, especially when the collapse of the last accord led to enormous economic difficulties in Iran and left it deeply unprepared for the pandemic. Dealing with America these days is the diplomatic equivalent of an adjustable rate mortgage.
After enduring crippling economic pressure from the United States and its allies, what else could Raisi have to fear from the United States? For nearly 20 years, US leaders have warned that “all options are on the table.” With near-heavenly reliability, rumor has it that the United States is on the verge of a bombing campaign, or is signaling that it will not oppose an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. And yet, no leader in either country has resorted to such drastic measures, even as the time for Iran’s nuclear explosion draws closer and closer.
It’s not just that the threat of force itself is empty. Tehran doesn’t operate in some kind of information vacuum – they just watched with everyone the United States withdrew his strength Afghanistan, as part of a plan negotiated by a Republican president and then led by a Democrat. Staying clear of the complicated military entanglements in the region is now one of Washington’s closest things to a bipartisan consensus on anything. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken can say whatever he wants, but it is ludicrous to think that anyone in Iran thinks the United States has any appetite for anything other than accidentally launching cruise missiles. ‘one shot.
The Islamic Republic has survived decades of American intrigue as well as material hardships shared by almost the entire population. With each protest spasm Against brutality, corruption and incompetence, it is hoped that this harmful regime will be swept aside, only to be thrown against the brutal rocks of authoritarian resilience. Having suffered so much on the nuclear weapon route, now so close that they can practically feel the fallout, why would they stop without major concessions?
These realities demand an entirely new negotiating paradigm. The Biden team must first let go of the fantasy of a better deal with Iran and remove any deadlocks from the foreign policy team that thinks the regime is one step away from collapsing. Thanks to the senseless blunder of the Trump administration, Tehran is, in almost every conceivable way, in a stronger negotiating position today than it was in 2015, with even less incentive to believe the American promises.
This means that if Iran is to stop work on its nuclear program and resume intrusive international inspections, it must have guarantees from an entity other than the United States that the country will not fall back into economic misery even if it does. it is in compliance with whatever conditions it accepts. More importantly, the United States must make a binding promise that it will not use its power in the global financial and banking systems to intimidate other countries into not doing business with Iran.
Sadly, it’s not clear that anyone in the White House sees it that way. Shortly after his inauguration, Biden refused Tehran’s offer to restore the pre-Trump status quo, insisting that Iran fully comply before the United States joins the pact and lifts sanctions. Tehran, understandably, has balked at having to take the first step towards reconciliation after the Trump administration withdrew from the deal on the most fragile pretext. Perhaps they thought that outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani no longer had the power to negotiate a binding deal, which is not unreasonable. But it was disappointing to say the least to see the new Democratic administration pass up the opportunity without even trying.
Then, in June, pre-established election results drawn up by Iranian authoritarian leaders brought Raisi, a much more conservative and hawkish figure than Rouhani, in power. Raisi would have does not view the return to the JCPOA as a top priority, preferring instead to rebuild the economy by deepening ties with Russia, China and other countries in the region. His faction is so suspicious of the United States that the negotiations, if they do take place, are going to be slow and painful.
Yet instead of rethinking its approach, the Biden administration apparently intends to tie any new nuclear framework to other changes in Iranian policy, such as the dismantling of the country’s missile program. It’s a failure for Iran, and Biden surely knows it. Maybe Washington thinks Iran is years away from perfecting a weapon design and is content to drop the crisis into the knees of the next administration. Or maybe they concluded that they don’t care much whether Iran develops a nuclear weapon after all – an assessment long overdue but one that would not be well received publicly.
Yet any move towards Iran’s nuclear explosion will cause utter political chaos in the United States, making the hysterical reaction to the withdrawal from Afghanistan appear calm and measured. If the president wishes to avoid this outcome, time is running out.