Biden wants to recover the Iranian nuclear deal
(but it's not that simple)
by Paolo Mauri
In the electoral program of Joe Biden, president-elect (for now) of the United States, there is the desire to recover the Iranian nuclear agreement, the ICPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) wanted by Barack Obama in 2015 and rejected by Donald Trump in May 2018.
The treaty was aimed at ensuring that Iranian nuclear development was solely and exclusively aimed at peaceful ends, thus allowing the gradual withdrawal of international sanctions that have almost strangled the country's economy.
However, for the United States, re-entering the stretch may not be so simple given the current diplomatic context that has arisen after the four years of the Trump administration.
Despite the intention to collect favorable opinions among the original signatories of the ICPOA, including Iran, there are complications of a different nature. One is determined precisely by American politics, the others can be defined as "external in nature", and feature two international players: Israel and Iran.
Erasing four years of Washington's progressive military and diplomatic pressure on Tehran will not be easy for Biden: the White House has in fact managed to isolate the Ayatollah regime in several ways.
First of all, the return of sanctions, exploiting the use of the dollar as a currency for trade (including the fundamental ones for Iran regarding hydrocarbons), has shaped a strongly conditioning economic scenario that will take time to be modified. Secondly, the US executive increased its military presence in the Persian Gulf area, shifting assets and implementing outpost equipment such as the al-Udeid base in Qatar. This was part of a well-thought-out tactic already seen in the crisis with North Korea responding to the need to increase the tension to bring the opponent to the negotiating table: with Pyongyang it worked, although the negotiations then entered a long phase of deadlock, but not with Tehran.
On a diplomatic level, then, the Trump administration has achieved an epochal result that served precisely to corner Tehran and isolate it as much as possible: the Abrahamic Agreements.
Precisely through these, then, it was able to enter into negotiations for the sale of modern and latest generation weapons (such as the F-35s) to Iranian adversaries, such as the United Arab Emirates.
An event that will certainly have consequences in relations with Israel, which the executive has recovered after the historic lows recorded with Obama's two mandates precisely through the exit from the ICPOA (always contested by Tel Aviv) and the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem. Another "nut to crack" for Biden if he really intends to recover relations with the Ayatollahs.
Above all, this last junction, that of relations with Israel regarding the sale of arms to Arab countries, will be the litmus test of Biden's policy regarding the Middle East and risks turning into a minefield: stopping the sale of F-35s to the UAE would undermine the trust of a new ally but would not destabilize the Gulf (also due to any Iranian reactions), selling them instead would mean cementing a very profitable alliance in the future (Abu Dhabi is an important player in North Africa and especially in Libya) but to displease Israel and above all triggering a small arms race on the part of Tehran, which, despite the economic difficulties, could look (in a medium / long term perspective) to the "eastern" arms market by getting into debt and thus allowing the deeper penetration of other international players (China for example) who are waiting for the opportunity to oppose the United States where they feel safer.
We have thus, unwittingly, already introduced one of the "external" problems that Biden will have to face if he really intends to bring the United States back into the JCPOA: Israel.
Tel Aviv always opposed, as mentioned, the nuclear deal because it considered it (not wrongly, perhaps) not enough as a guarantee that Iran would not be able to produce nuclear weapons and, above all, it did not eliminate the main threat of the Ayatollahs, which it is the missile one. Iran has a respectable missile program, certainly the largest in the Middle East and, under the leadership of the IRGC (the Guards of the Islamic Revolution), continues to develop it despite the return of the sanctioning regime.
Surely, Israel will try in every way to prevent the United States from selling the F-35s to the UAE or other Arab countries, in order to maintain that technological advantage over weapons that Washington has always made sure to guarantee the Jewish State over its "adversaries". Therefore, the new Secretary of State will have a lot of headache to face.
Even Iran, despite having warmly welcomed Biden's desire to recover the nuclear deal, could hinder the success of such an attempt.
First of all, Tehran, which has seen itself come back under sanctions, could use an iron fist and demand, as a gesture of "good will", that all sanctions be lifted with immediate effect: an eventuality that, if not impossible, is at least somewhat little far-fetched.
Secondly, it could even make a request to be compensated, worth billions of dollars, for the damages caused by the unilateral exit of the United States from the JCPOA. Ultimately, Biden may find himself having to negotiate with a president other than the, all in all moderate, Hassan Rouhani: in the elections of June 2021 it is very likely that he will not be re-elected and that the strong internal opposition, more extremist, will be able to win his candidate.
Moreover, we already know now that Iran is not interested in a temporary freeze of sanctions and, in the meantime, it will not stop enriching uranium or reduce its stocks: they have always maintained that they will return to full compliance with the agreement only when the United States they will.
"I will offer Tehran a credible path to return to diplomacy", Biden told CNN last September. "If Iran were to return to strictly abide by the nuclear agreement, the United States would return to the agreement as a starting point for subsequent negotiations".
In the meantime, however, the road leading to the January settlement is still long, and the Iranian side continues to proceed with the atomic program, resurrected "in stages" starting from July last year: Wednesday, as reported by the Jerusalem Post, a UN report reported that Tehran has begun to power advanced centrifuges (type Ir-2m) for uranium enrichment installed at its underground facility at the Natanz nuclear power plant.
A move certainly not unexpected given the precedents, but which, more than teasing a possible preventive attack between now and January to eliminate the atomic threat (extremely unlikely scenario given the serious possibility of an escalation culminating in an open conflict), further complicates future negotiations as it puts Iran in an advantageous position and above all increases the amount of enriched uranium present in the arsenals. Uranium which, if a new agreement is reached, will have a considerable diplomatic weight, in addition to the atomic one.
Original column by Paolo Mauri:
Translation by Costantino Ceoldo
Photo: By United States Department of State - https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/16389773974, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39364779
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