Sunday July 31, 2022

Biden has undermined trust with Iran

Biden has undermined trust with Iran

Joe Biden

Last week European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Washington and Tehran to accept the final draft of the 2015 agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting sanctions. In an appeal published by the Financial Times, Borrell said that following 15 months of talks in Vienna, he has “concluded that the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted.” He stated the text on the table “addresses in precise detail, the sanctions lifting as well as the nuclear steps needed to restore the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),” from which Donald Trump pulled out in 2018 and slapped 1,500 sanctions on Iran.

Borrell argued, “This text represents the best possible deal.” Although “not perfect,” it addresses all “essential elements and includes compromises by all sides. Now is the time to seize this unique opportunity.”

However, Borrell was forced to admit that return to the JCPOA is “politically polarising in Washington” due to bipartisan opposition to the deal and mid-term Congressional elections while in Tehran there are reservations that the JCPOA could be abandoned again in 2025 by a successor to the Biden administration.

Neither Iran nor the US has agreed to accept the text on offer or Borrell’s contention that the deal does not need altering and his job, as mediator, is finished. Iranian chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani responded by tweeting that Tehran has its own ideas — “in substance and form” but did not reveal them. The US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the Biden administration will review the deal, claimed that Washington had been prepared to accept it since March” and blamed Iran for preventing finalisation.

Stringing out negotiations indefinitely does not mean the moribund deal is dead. Although Borrell is clearly fed up with the bazaar bargaining process, both sides seek to preserve the JCPOA because neither has a Plan B and both could benefit from its revival. Price was being disingenuous when he said the Biden administration was prepared to accept the deal since March this year because both sides have continued to dicker.

The current sticking point is the US refusal to remove from its “terrorism” list Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). While Iran has ceased calling for delisting, it demands that sanctions be lifted on IRGC-affiliated companies and institutions which are major players in the public, semi-private and private sectors of the economy. Maintaining sanctions on these bodies could restrict economic growth once sanctions are lifted on non-IRGC-connected firms and organisations.

During his presidential election campaign Joe Biden pledged to return to the JCPOA and gave the impression that this would be a priority for his administration if he entered the White House. Although he began his term in office by signing 17 executive orders on January 20th, 2021, inauguration day, the piece of paper restoring US adherence to the deal was not among them. If it had been, the situation would be very different.

If the US would have re-entered the JCPOA and lifted sanctions, Iran, the US, this region, and the international community would have benefitted.

Iran would have returned to compliance and developments in its nuclear programme would have been frozen before major technical successes were achieved over the past 18 months. The Iranian economy would have been given a boost and in the June 2021 election, Iran might have elected a moderate who would be prepared to negotiate on other issues. Instead, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi won the presidency.

Biden would have had a solid foreign policy triumph early in his first term and might have been able to secure US objectives in negotiations with Iran over its ballistic missile programme and regional activities which the US opposes.

Countries in this region would not have to worry about the possibility that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons — which, so far, Tehran as abjured as “haram,” prohibited by Islam.

Iran would not be isolated and feel itself constantly under threat from Israel and the US and could pursue reconciliation and trade with its neighbours.

The international community would not have to worry about the proliferation in this region of nuclear weapons beyond the considerable arsenal of bombs and warheads in Israel’s arsenal.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman warned in 2018, “If Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible” although this would violate Riyadh’s commitment to the non-proliferation treaty. Saudi Arabia is currently negotiating with South Korea over the construction of two nuclear power plants and independent uranium enrichment facilities. Turkey and Egypt could also consider this possibility.

Instead of promptly and unconditionally re-entering the JCPOA, Biden dithered, prevaricated and procrastinated due to anti-Iran and pro-Israel pressure which has built up over the past 15 months of off-and-on negotiations. He has undermined the slender trust he had with a sceptical Iran by refusing to re-enter the deal and adding more sanctions.

Biden followed the bad example of politicians the world over by not delivering on a key election pledge. To make matters worse, by sticking to Trump’s policy towards Iran, Biden forgot he was elected by a whopping majority primarily because he is NOT Trump.

The Vienna talks opened in early April 2021 with bickering over which side must be first to return. As the US withdrew from the JCPOA, Tehran quite rightly argued that the US should re-enter the deal and begin lifting sanctions before Iran commences the process of resuming compliance. This involves returning to limits set by the JCPOA on uranium enrichment, stockpiling, and centrifuges used for enrichment as well as returning to full cooperation with the intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regime of monitoring Iran’s nuclear facilities.

A year after Trump withdrew from the deal and launched his “maximum pressure” campaign by piling sanctions upon sanctions with the aim of compelling Tehran to capitulate to a dozen US demands, Iran began to gradually reduce compliance. Iran exceeded the uranium purification limit of 3.67 by enriching to 20 and then 60 per cent, and amassed stockpiles exceeding 300 kilograms. Iran also restricted the activities of IAEA inspectors. Iran argues that its return to compliance is not complicated and can be achieved within months if not weeks. However, as long as the deal remains unsigned, Iranian scientists will continue to advance their country’s nuclear programme and gain knowledge and expertise in enrichment and constructing state-of-the-art equipment for this purpose. The scientists will not waste the time wasted in political posturing.

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