TEHRAN – With the Biden team gearing up to take the helm in the White House, opponents of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal do their utmost to undercut any U.S. plan to rejoin the nuclear deal and ensure that the current economic pressure on Iran would continue for the foreseeable future.
After Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election in November, the nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)- once again become a focal point in the ongoing debate over how the incoming Joe Biden administration should deal with Iran in general. Biden’s campaign promise that he would rejoin the JCPOA if he is elected has only exacerbated this debate, which is expected to grow even more heated in the early months of Biden’s presidency because the president-elect has vowed to upend Trump’s Iran policy once he moved into the White House.
“I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal’s provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern,” then-presidential candidate Biden wrote in a September 13 op-ed for CNN.
Although he refused to elaborate on his plan to rejoin the nuclear deal, Biden reiterated his commitment to return the U.S. to the JCPOA after he won the November election while raising some other issues unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program.
In a recent interview with The New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman, Biden said that he still stands by his views on the nuclear deal that were articulated in the mid-September op-ed, but a U.S. return to the deal would be “hard.” Asked whether he still stands by his views on the deal that he expressed in the op-ed for CNN, Biden answered, “It’s going to be hard, but yeah.”
Biden also said in a post-election interview with CNN that dealing with Iran would be “very difficult.”
“He [Trump] has pulled out to get something tougher, and what have they done? They’ve increased the ability for them to have nuclear material. They’re moving closer to the ability to be able to have enough material for a nuclear weapon. And there’s the missile issues,” Biden said, adding, “All those things, I think, are going to be very difficult. But I know one thing: We cannot do this alone. And that’s why we have to be part of a larger group, dealing not only with Iran, but with Russia, with China and a whole range of other issues.”
These remarks were widely seen as a retreat from his campaign promise to rejoin the JCPOA or at least an effort to get more concessions from Iran in exchange for rejoining the nuclear deal, a view that is basically grounded on the assumption that Iran is eager to get the U.S. to return to the JCPOA.
Those who call on Biden to refrain from rejoining the nuclear agreement also claim that Iran is in a rush to get Biden to reenter the JCPOA to get rid of sanctions.
“Iran aims to compel Biden to immediately and unconditionally remove the sanctions that President Trump began to impose three years ago after he pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal,” wrote Henry Rome, a senior analyst for Iran, Israel, and global macro issues at Eurasia Group, in an op-ed for NPR.
Rome and other like-minded people are pushing for a delay in U.S. return to the JCPOA because they falsely believe that Iran is so desperate to get a sanctions relief that if Biden “bide his time on Iran”, the country will blink first and make whatever concessions the Biden White House demands.
“Biden should not play into Iran’s pattern of nuclear threats combined with artificial deadlines. Biden and his team will have time — and economic leverage — on their side. The incoming administration should take advantage of its strong position to diligently pursue its goal of strengthening and lengthening nuclear restrictions and should resist the pressure to act hastily,” Rome continued, referring to Iran’s latest decision to raise the level of uranium enrichment to 20%.
Opponents of the JCPOA even warned Biden against abandoning what they call a sanctions “leverage” over Iran. They believe that if Biden rejoins the JCPOA, the U.S. will be in a far weaker negotiating position against Iran.
“But if Biden were to give in to nuclear extortion and abandon sanctions, he would surrender his most important leverage against Tehran and never achieve his stated goal of negotiating a longer-lasting, better agreement,” wrote Richard Goldberg, a former Trump National Security official, and Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in an essay for the Foreign Policy magazine.
This flawed logic lacks fundamental coherence. The JCPOA opponents call on the Biden team to preserve the U.S. “leverage” by not lifting the U.S. sanctions on Iran. But they do not explain why Iran should accept a U.S. return to the JCPOA without any remarkable sanctions relief. In fact, Iran has announced that it does not view the U.S. return to the JCPOA, in itself, as a concession from Joe Biden. On the contrary, it has said that a U.S. return without the lifting of sanctions would be harmful to Iran and that Iran may even oppose the Biden administration’s possible return to the JCPOA if the U.S. insists on keeping the sanctions in place.
In a televised appearance on Friday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei said that any U.S. return to the JCPOA without the lifting of the sanctions would be disadvantageous to Iran.
“Nowadays, they talk about the U.S. returning to the JCPOA. However, we do not insist on this at all and we are in no rush for the U.S. to return to the JCPOA. This is not the issue for us whether the U.S. returns to the JCPOA or not. If the sanctions are not lifted, then the U.S.’s return to the JCPOA might even be to our disadvantage. Not only will it not be to our advantage, it will also be to our disadvantage,” the Leader said.
Therefore, Iran is in no rush to get the U.S. sanctions lifted because the effect of these sanctions is increasingly diminishing. Besides, Iran is drawing up plans to continue to live with sanctions.
“I have repeated this time and time again, and I wish to repeat it one more time. We should assume that sanctions will not be lifted. Of course, the effects of sanctions are gradually diminishing, but we should suppose that they will remain. Therefore, we should formulate plans for the economy of the country in such a way that we will not be faced with any difficulties even if sanctions continue and even if the enemy continues to play these games,” the Leader pointed out.
Unlike what the opponents of the JCPOA claim, sanctions have never forced Iran to make concessions, especially now that Iran seems to believe that Biden will also keep imposing sanctions on Iran.
Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, has said in an interview with the website of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations that the incoming Joe Biden administration is unlikely to fundamentally change Trump’s sanctions policy against Iran.
He said that there is no major difference between Republican and Democratic administrations when it comes to foreign policy.
“For example, the use of sanctions against Iran has continued in various U.S. Democratic and Republican administrations. The United States has used the tool of sanctions in recent years, and sees it as a tool it thinks it can use to gain concessions and will continue to do so,” Takht-Ravanchi said.
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