Nuclear deal: Biden must hurry
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BERLIN, (BM) – Joe Biden wants to get back into the JCPOA, he assured in a recent interview with Thomas Friedman, the columnist for the New York Times: “It’s going to be hard, but yeah.”
The conversation took place after the murder of the Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fachrisadeh. Biden is familiar with negotiations on the nuclear deal with Iran from his time as Vice President under Obama; later, he had to convince the US Congress. It doesn’t get any easier this time around, as the Republicans are likely to have a Senate majority.
Iran has a few options for responding to the attack. One of them is the law that was passed by the Iranian parliament last week. It puts Biden under time pressure. He has two months after the law has entered into force to take measures to ease the sanctions. It is not yet in power; according to government spokesman Ali Rabiei, it needs the Supreme National Security Council’s approval. Ayatollah Khamenei’s evaluation will be necessary.
The Guardian Council passed the law on Wednesday after most parliament voted for it, despite objections from the Iranian government. Both President Rohani and Foreign Minister Zarif urged restraint, fearing that the conflict would escalate.
The new law provides the monitoring of the civil nuclear energy program by the international supervisory authority IAEA will be suspended, contrary to what agrees in the JCPOA. Contrary to what is required, uranium enrichment should be accelerated again, even when a new plant is installed. Existing ones expanded – should the sanctions against Iran not be lifted. Some headlines in Western media on this conveyed that Iran is getting out of the agreement.
From an Iranian perspective, however, as in the previous steps that deviated from the JCPOA requirements, the main aim is to increase the pressure to lift the sanctions finally and at the same time to convey that the measures are reversible. After the US withdrew from the agreement, Iran directed appeals to the three European partner countries, Great Britain, France, and Germany. However, they showed themselves to be utterly dependent on Trump’s anti-Iran course and could or did not want to take decisive countermeasures.
“December and January Surprises”
Biden could change course, and European countries would follow suit. Announcements were made by the incumbent US president and his foreign minister, Pompeo, stating that obstacles would be put in Biden’s way to prevent a return to the JCPOA and a change of course in Iran policy as far as possible. Speculation about military strikes, “December and January surprises,” by both the US and Israeli sides, increased.
Then somebody murdered the nuclear physicist on Iranian territory. This action was understood as a sign that the US leadership, in consultation with Israel, has decided not to risk an open exchange of blows but to rely on covert operations. The initiative could have come from Israel, like the operation itself, comments former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Mossad leader Yossi Cohen recently reported to the Times of Israel that he wants to step up such operations. The newspaper report suggests that Cohen was instrumental in the attack on Fachrisadeh. There are no official statements on this.
The Belgian journalist Elijah J. Magnier, who cites Iranian sources for his information, reported that Iran could take its time with retaliatory actions. Since the leadership in Tehran assumes that Saudi Arabia also played a role in the attack on Mohsen Fachrisadeh, there are even more options.
The current administration in Tehran, whose President Rohani and Foreign Minister Zarif worked for years to bring about the JCPOA, is not interested in wasting the new US President Biden’s opportunities. Due to the time pressure placed on him by the law with the two months, he must show his colors soon after taking office.
So far, Biden has emphasized that he will return to the agreement and lift the US sanctions if Iran “adheres strictly to the guidelines” again. But there are also statements from him that he is seeking negotiations with Iran about the missile program and Iranian policy in the region. In the opinion of the Iranian leadership, neither is part of the JCPOA.
“No détente expected.”
For the new foreign minister of the Biden government, Antony Blinken, this is already an issue for necessary renegotiations with Iran and Jake Sullivan, the new national security advisor. Even from Michèle Flournoy, who is considered by the media to be the favorite for the post of defense minister, Tehran “cannot expect a policy of détente or greater opening of the United States” – “unless Tehran will reduce its military presence for the time being.”
The US strategy of “maximum pressure” has failed, comment on the media, think tanks, and experts who sympathize with the new US government. This can be seen in a recent Iranian law, which would bring the situation back to the state before the conclusion of the JCPOA.
Pressure on Iran will remain high under President Biden. There are competing factions of power that are not essentially different, except perhaps in their missionary spirit. Pompeo’s opposition to Iran was of a particular kind. Trump’s foreign minister gave some in the government the impression that he was on a biblical mission. Blinken is much more reflective, and he relies on negotiations. But there are also statements from him that do not suggest a policy of détente.
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