Iran has a reason to be happy with Biden
As the Biden administration launched indirect talks in Vienna on Tuesday in hopes of reviving the disastrous Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, a spokesperson for the world’s main sponsor of terrorism declared victory preemptively. “We find this position realistic and promising,” said Ali Rabiei, of the hope that President Biden would agree to lift the crippling sanctions. “This could be the start of correcting the bad process that has driven diplomacy to a standstill.” The “bad process” refers to the maximum pressure campaign in which the Trump administration took seriously Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its destabilizing influence in the region. Trump imposed punitive sanctions on Iran and eliminated the chief architect of his terror strategy, Qasem Soleimani. And it rightly withdrew from the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or “JCPOA”), in 2018. Although no immediate progress is expected this week Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who headed the Iranian delegation, called Tuesday’s talks constructive and announced that talks “at expert level” will continue on Friday. It’s no surprise the diet is so giddy. The mere existence of these talks demonstrated the Biden administration’s interest in the diplomatic theater to obscure its move towards Tehran’s negotiating position. On February 7, Biden was invited in an interview with CBS if he would lift sanctions to bring Iran back to the table. He replied simply: “No” He also indicated that Iran should first stop enriching uranium. But the cracks had started to appear in the run-up to Vienna. Last Friday, US Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley told PBS NewsHour: “The United States knows that in order to get back into compliance it is going to have to lift the sanctions that are inconsistent with the deal with L ‘Iran and the other countries involved in the nuclear deal. On Monday, before the talks, State Department spokesman Ned Price dodged a question about sanctions relief. “I will leave it to the negotiators to detail the positions,” he said, effectively leaving the possibility open. The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior administration official on the same day as saying the Iranians have called for “a first step that would pave the way for these talks,” such as sanctions relief. He added: “It was their idea, and we went.” To be clear, there’s no guarantee that the United States will end up offering sanctions relief as a result of the Vienna talks, even if that’s where it seems to be going. Either way, the talks indicate that the Biden administration would like to shift the debate from whether it should renew a bad deal to how it can do so as a middle step towards a “follow-up deal” that discusses other aspects of Iran’s behavior. The deal that the Obama team negotiated was fundamentally flawed if the goal was to restrict Iran. It allowed hundreds of billions of dollars to flow to Iran up front, while allowing the regime to continue working on ballistic missiles and maintain a “civilian” nuclear program. In a frenzy to get Iran to agree to restrictions on uranium enrichment, negotiators did not address Iran’s sponsorship of international terrorism. And yet, a sunset clause allowed restrictions on uranium enrichment to begin to disappear over 10 to 15 years. Even if Iran had followed the deal to the letter, it would still have been allowed to become a more potent conventional threat and commit terrorism while retaining the long-term option of becoming a nuclear power. Of course, he violated the agreement on several occasions anyway, keeping nuclear records all the time. More recently, in February, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Iran had produced uranium metal at one of its nuclear power plants. Even modest steps to lift Trump-era sanctions will sabotage virtually any hope of getting Iran to make any concessions on the myriad of issues the Obama deal did not resolve. Any form of sanctions relief will be a lifeline for the regime, which had been crippled by the maximum pressure campaign. In the weeks leading up to Vienna, senior Biden officials made it clear that such concessions were in sight. Moreover, they are repeating one of the main mistakes made by Obama’s national security team. In other words, in the desperation of signing a deal that they could claim dealt with the nuclear issue, the Obama administration looked away from Iran’s pernicious behavior in the world and jumped on every occasion to grease the wheels of the negotiations. Likewise, under Biden, US officials are said to have had discussions with South Korea over the release of Iranian assets blocked by oil sanctions in that country. They have refused to oppose a potential $ 5 billion IMF loan to the country and have apparently turned a blind eye to sales of Iranian oil to Chinese companies allegedly violating sanctions. All the while, the administration telegraphed that it would put very little pressure on Iranian proxies, and even reduce the US military footprint in the Gulf region. Unlike the Trump administration, the Biden team has failed to link Iran’s regional activity to its nuclear issue. It has already removed the designation of foreign terrorist organization from Iran-backed Houthi rebels, and the sanctions on the chopping block are said to be terrorism-related. From the start, the administration has vowed to seek a “longer and stronger” deal to resolve these issues once both sides return to full compliance with the JCPOA. The problem is that once the United States implements the sanctions relief, Tehran will have no reason to negotiate a further deal. The Biden administration will have squandered hard-earned leverage without showing anything. The only way this strategy makes sense is if it’s intentional. It’s no secret that Obama officials have envisioned a realignment in the Middle East away from traditional alliances with Israel and the Arab Gulf states to a region in which Iran is more influential. And there is reason to believe that the Biden administration, which includes many of the same officials, shares a similar mindset. The concessions that make Iran more economically powerful are in line with this vision. Either way, it’s clear that when Washington and Tehran eventually sit down for direct talks, the latter will gain the upper hand, undermining U.S. regional allies and making it easier for Iran to achieve its nuclear ambitions and to threaten the world.