Is Biden Going To Blow Reentering The Iran Nuclear Deal?

Is Biden Going To Blow Reentering The Iran Nuclear Deal?

I certainly hope not, but it is not out of the question.  There is a serious split within the new Biden administration over how to approach getting the US back into the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, which, just for the record, the US withdrew from even though it was the US that had violated it by not fully withdrawing economic sanctions against Iran, a decision made during the Obama administration that negotiated the deal, while Iran was not in violation and continued to adhere to it for quite some time after the US withdrew to condemnation by the other parties to the deal, which included western European nations as well as Russia and China.

Throughout the campaign Biden expressed an intention to get back into the agreement.  But some of his foreign policy appointees have raised conditions for doing so that might delay or even block doing so, with such a delay dangerous because in June there will be a presidential election in Iran where most are forecasting that current President Rouhani, who negotiated the deal and supports the US reentering will be replaced by a hardliner who may well simply oppose the deal.  There is a not very large window for doing this.  It is pretty obvious that this looks like extending the nuclear START with Russia: it should simply be done without demanding special favors or actions from Iran, just START is likely to be extended as is, with Putin apparently accepting Biden’s offer for a simple five-year extension.  But then, Russia is much more powerful than Iran is.

Who wants to hold things up?  Apparently Biden’s incoming SecState Blinken and his National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan.  Both want Iran to get itself back into obeying the accord before the US makes any moves to lower economic sanctions.  On top of that, Sullivan wants Iran to agree to additions to the agreement to limit its ballistic missile program, items never in the original deal, even if it has been a source of anger by regional allies opposed to the deal like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel.  The latter would certainly delay any resumption of the deal past the June election and outright kill it, while the former very likely would.  It looks pretty obvious that the US needs to offer some sort of simultaneity of reducing sanctions as Iran moves to end the uranium enrichment activities it started up after the US withdrew.

There is reason to be hopeful that these hawkish proponents of making it hard for Iran to allow the US back into the deal may get ignored.  The most important is that reportedly Biden has appointed Robert Malley as the special negotiator on this matter.  Malley’s publicly stated views are not in agreement with the ideas of Blinken or Sullivan and he seems to support something more like a simultaneous move on both sides to put it back into functioning.  The others are the presence in the administration of people who negotiated the original deal: Wendy Sherman as Deputy Secretary of State, and although a bit more distant, John Kerry, now to be leader on climate issues in foreign policy.  I would expect them to side with Malley on this matter, and I hope Biden will ignore these people who seem to be pushing ideas that could lead to a failure to achieve possibly the most important foreign policy move Biden needs to make, or at least undoing possibly the worst foreign policy move Trump made.

Barkley Rosser