Biden risks giving up US leverage on Iran
US President-elect Joe Biden last week made clear his views on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. In spite of the fact that Biden highlighted Iran’s ballistic program and malign behavior in his interview with the New York Times, his policy on the nuclear pact with the Tehran regime has several major flaws.
To begin with, Biden pointed out that, if Iran returns to compliance with the JCPOA, his administration would rejoin the nuclear deal as a starting point. The other issues — including the threat of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its destructive behavior in the region — will be addressed in “follow-on” negotiations. The New York Times article clarified that: “The view of Biden and his national security team has been that, once the deal is restored by both sides, there will have to be, in very short order, a round of negotiations to seek to lengthen the duration of the restrictions on Iran’s production of fissile material that could be used to make a bomb — originally 15 years — as well as to address Iran’s malign regional activities, through its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”
But the major problem with such a policy is that, once the US rejoins the 2015 nuclear deal, then it will lose almost all the leverage it currently has against Tehran because all economic sanctions will be lifted under the terms of the JCPOA.
The Trump administration’s sanctions against the theocratic establishment have crippled Iran’s economy, reduced its oil exports, and significantly isolated the regime. The regime is now desperate for cash, meaning that Iran’s ballistic missile program, its destructive behavior in the region, and its support for terror and militia groups must not be allowed to continue once it returns to the nuclear deal and the US sanctions are lifted. If sanctions are lifted first, Iran will see no incentive to address these issues, as the money will again start flowing into its treasury.
Instead, any sanctions removal must be gradual and contingent on Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, as well as with new restrictions on its ballistic missile program and its support for terror groups. Furthermore, Biden did not clarify how he would restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program or how his administration would confront Iran’s destructive behavior in the region and its support for terror groups.
Although Biden wants to prolong the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, the sunset clauses seem set to remain.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s nuclear negotiations team includes some very shrewd politicians, who were capable of obtaining many concessions from the world powers in 2015, making the final draft of the JCPOA significantly in favor of Tehran after two years of talks. Moreover, the New York Times reported that: “Ideally, the Biden team would like to see that follow-on negotiation include not only the original signatories to the deal — Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union — but also Iran’s Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”
Iran’s neighbors must not only be included in the follow-on negotiations, but also in any possible US return to the nuclear deal. When the JCPOA was being negotiated, Iran’s neighbors were needlessly excluded, despite living on the country’s doorstep and feeling the consequences of Iranian proxy action more acutely than any of the deal’s signatories. This generated a flawed agreement that failed to recognize their rightful concerns.
Another flaw is that, although Biden stated that he wants to prolong the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, the sunset clauses seem set to remain intact. These allow the Islamic Republic — after the agreement expires — to resume enriching uranium to any level it desires, spin as many advanced centrifuges as it wants, make its reactors fully operational, build new heavy water reactors, produce as much fuel for its reactors as it desires, and maintain higher uranium enrichment capability with no restrictions. After the JCPOA ends, Iran will effectively be rewarded with an unrestricted, industrialized, high-level nuclear enrichment program.
The primary objective of the nuclear talks must be to halt Iran’s nuclear program permanently, hence eliminating the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the region and removing the strategic threat that a nuclear-armed Iran might pose through its hegemonic ambitions. This means that a nuclear deal with the Iranian regime must not have an expiration date. In the world of geopolitics, 10 or 15-year agreements are considered very brief.
In a nutshell, Biden must not return to the flawed nuclear deal and reward the Iranian regime with sanctions relief. By doing so, he would give up the major leverage the US currently has against Tehran.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh