Biden faces a race against the clock for U.S. to rejoin Iran nuclear deal

A view from the street of Tehran, in Tehran, Iran, on November 9, 2020, as a citizen reading in newspapers about the US elections.

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WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal if Iran complies with the agreement, but both sides must race against the clock and navigate a political minefield to reach that goal.

With Iran due to hold elections in June, any diplomatic effort will have to move swiftly during Biden’s first few months in office, US officials, European diplomats and regional experts say.

The current president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, threw his weight behind the 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and there is no guarantee that the next Iranian president will cut any deal Will be open for

Former US officials said that Biden and Rouhani would have to compete with Washington and Tehran as well as fierce opponents to the agreement in the region, and they would need to show that any concession would be met with mutual action from the other side. Is accomplished, former US officials said.

Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Jawad Zarif have sent clear messages that Iran is ready to talk to the Biden administration to revive the agreement, as long as Washington complies with the terms of the agreement.

“Our objective is to lift the pressure of sanctions off the shoulders of our people,” Rouhani said at a recent cabinet meeting. “Wherever this favorable opportunity arises, we shall act on our responsibilities. No opportunity should be missed.”

The Iranian government’s statements over the past two weeks show that “they are moving too fast to point out Biden’s various options for diplomatically re-engaging Iran,” said Eli Gernmaye, European Council A senior policy fellow of the On Foreign Relations Tank.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has vowed to keep pressure on Iran in its final months in office, with new sanctions imposed this week that could complicate Biden’s plans.

“It seems clear that the Trump administration wants to continue the maximum pressure policy between now and January,” said Nissan Rafati, senior analyst at Iran at the International Crisis Group think tank. “They are seeing this as a period of locking in their policy as much as possible.”

Iran and bomb

The 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers punished economic sanctions on Tehran in exchange for a strict limit on Iran’s nuclear activities. But after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the pact in 2018, Iran has broken some of those limits, reducing the time it takes for Tehran to build a nuclear bomb.

Trump re-enacted sanctions that were relaxed under the JCPOAA and a number of additional sanctions were imposed on Iran, causing a severe setback to the country’s economy. The country’s currency has fallen in value, inflation is huge and its oil exports – Iran’s main source of revenue – have dropped dramatically.

But sanctions have not dissuaded Iran from pursuing its nuclear program. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has increased the amount of less enriched uranium by 12 times under the agreement, higher than the enrichment level set by the agreement and introduced more centrifuges than allowed by the agreement.

Nuclear experts say Iran’s “breakout time” to secure enough weapon-grade material for the atomic bomb has been reduced from 12 months when the deal lasted for about three to four months.

In an op-ed in September, Biden said he would “make an unwavering commitment to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” He said the best way to get the deal was for the US to re-enter the deal.

Biden wrote, “I will provide Tehran with a credible path to diplomacy. If Iran strictly complies with the nuclear deal, the US will resume the agreement as a starting point for negotiating the agreement.”

Even if Biden and Rouhani want to strike an agreement, arriving at a formula that would allow the US to re-enter the deal, and it would not be easy for Iran to open up its nuclear activities .

Former US officials and European diplomats said that instead of removing Iran at once or Iran returning immediately for full compliance, a more likely scenario could see an increase over a period of three or four months. Iran may have to halt its first nuclear work in exchange for some degree of sanctions relief. Further steps could eventually see Iran return to compliance and all nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted.

Biden’s team is no stranger to the subject or Iranian diplomats, as many of his advisers were deeply involved in the lengthy negotiations that led to the 2015 settlement under President Barack Obama. Biden himself has met Iran’s foreign minister dozens of times. Former officials said this experience could help speed up diplomacy and improve the chances of compromise.

However, the Biden administration would have to decide whether it would lift other sanctions imposed by Trump after the agreement came into force, including targeting Iran’s central bank. Many of the sanctions are unrelated to Iran’s nuclear activity, but refer to Iran’s support for ballistic missiles, human rights, and proxy forces in the region such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Although Biden and European officials have suggested building on the agreement to address other issues, including Iran’s growing ballistic missile arsenal, Iran has so far rejected that idea. In addition, any new agreement outside the parameters of the 2015 agreement would have to seek approval from a skeptical US Congress, where the result of two runoff races in Georgia on January 5 would decide whether Republicans retain their majority in the Senate.

Israel and the Gulf Arab states, which opposed the nuclear deal, would seek a new agreement for negotiations.

“If we are going to negotiate to protect our part of the world, we should be there,” the UAE’s Washington-based UAS ambassador recently said at an event held at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

Until the defense arrangements of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates come under discussion, Iran will not be ready to put its missile forces on the table, something that is difficult to imagine happening in the current climate, according to Richard Dalton British Ambassador to Iran from 2002 to 2006.

“I think we can control a big bargaining approach, in which everything is on the table at once,” Dalton said.

But critics of the 2015 agreement say Biden would have taken valuable advantage from the sanctions imposed by Trump, and he could only hold on to better terms than returning to the original deal.

“From my point of view it would be crazy to restart it without re-acquiring the deal,” said David Albright, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program with science and international security. “Whatever you think of Trump – and I don’t like that he left the deal – he took a huge amount of advantage over Iran, and to not use it seems simply insane. In that sense it’s Biden’s Is a gift. “

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign as a success and warned against lifting the sanctions, saying it would provide funding for the military and proximity to the Iranian regime in the region. “Reducing that pressure is a dangerous option, which is bound to weaken the new partnership for peace in the region and only strengthen the Islamic Republic,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Another wild card during the talks will be whether Iran retaliated for Trump’s decision to assassinate his top public representatives, Qasim Solimani. Although Iran reacted by firing missiles at US troops in Iraq at the time, some believe this to be the sum of the country’s response. On Sunday, a top Iranian general vowed to avenge “Soleimani’s” blood. “

Current and former US intelligence officials have said that they believe Iran will plan its time and plan carefully for a more powerful response, possibly a strike against an American general or an ambassador abroad.

Lowering temperature

In his first days of office, Biden would be eager to bring down the temperature with Iran, former US officials said. According to European diplomats and former US officials, the new president may take a number of confident steps, which would show that Washington is ready for diplomacy. The move could include lifting sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister and some other senior officials, ending the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries that affect many Iranian Americans, and loosening restrictions on human imports to Iran Huh.

Biden has already vowed to lift the travel ban and said he would “ensure that Iran’s fight against Kovid-19 is not hindered by US sanctions.”

According to Iranian authorities, Iran faces a shortage of medicine and medical equipment, including insulin, medicines for cancer treatment, influenza vaccines, and test kits for coronoviruses. The Treasury Department has issued licenses permitting human imports and says the United States is not to blame for any shortages or high prices of medical goods.

Katherine Bauer, a former Treasury administration official, said the Trump administration’s aggressive sanctions policy has an impact on many foreign banks, which are concerned about the risk of misallocation of US sanctions, even as humanitarian trade is legally Be allowed

“Because of the Trump administration’s enforcement posture, banks are reluctant to engage in such trade,” said Bauer at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

High-profile public statements and new guidance from the Biden administration may send a signal to European and other banks to approve humanitarian transactions sought by Iran, Bauer and other former officials.

Conservative advantage

Without a deal prior to Iran’s June 2021 elections, Biden may have no ready counterpart to the deal.

Iran’s next president could be more conservative and more skeptical of international engagement if last February’s parliamentary elections, where conservatives made a profit amid low turnout, are taken as a bellwether for next year’s vote. Are, may possibly meet the possibility of life in the deal. , Former US officials and experts said. If, however, the current government in Iran succeeds in getting relief from US sanctions before the vote, which could give life to Rouhani’s moderate allies.

Trump’s stance toward Iran has given ammunition to Iranian hardliners who were opposed to the deal from the beginning, and made Rouhani naïve to trust the Americans. Many have argued for the United States of Iran’s “compensation” for the damage caused by the sanctions, before Tehran could consider returning to compliance.

Despite rhetoric, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the coterie of hard-liners around him have not fully closed the door to revive the deal, according to the two, according to two, to gain access to hard currency due to US sanctions Are desperate for Former senior intelligence US officer with long experience working on Iranian issues.

Former intelligence officials said the nuclear deal had no effect on the hard-liners’ priorities, including an aggressive campaign to expand Iranian influence in the region through proxy forces in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.


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