Biden sends a message to Iran, but with a scalpel instead of a mallet –

Biden sends a message to Iran, but with a scalpel instead of a mallet

Both US President Joe Biden and Iran’s leadership would rather a world with a revived Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the Iran nuclear deal, than one without it. Getting there is proving difficult. The direction of travel is obvious, but the traffic lights are flashing red and now bomb craters have been placed on the road.
The attacks near Abu Kamal in Syria are a small sign that the Biden administration is not shy and that attacks on American personnel have consequences. But they were as minimally lethal as could be.

Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that while it was unrealistic for the United States and Iran to stop competing for regional influence, “it is reasonable to expect that they will keep those who are isolated from the path of the JCPOA. it’s in their mutual interest. “

The mutual interests are clear. The nuclear deal is the easiest way to realize America’s sworn intention to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And while Iran talks about how it is resisting sanctions to the best of its ability, it is very clear that its economy and the Covid-19 response would be vastly better off with its relief.

Biden has surrounded himself with experts on Iran: His Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and CIA chief candidate Bill Burns are deep in the making of the original 2015 deal. The only small risk in this pedigree team it’s that they underestimate the damage that Trump’s last four years have done to faith in careful American diplomacy.

However, Biden seems relatively relaxed about the hectic schedule that the Iranian parliament and hardliners have set for the deal to be renewed at the end of February. This has caused Iran’s enrichment to rise to 20% (with the additional threat of a jump to 60% from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei).

Inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have also been reduced, although they retain enough functionality to keep UN inspectors happy. Iran even threw into the mix its unexpected production of metallic uranium, something that has civilian uses. But, as David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security told me at the time of the announcement, this move “may be a symbol of weapons. It’s this kind of march that they’re on to scare people.”

“Clearly, Iran wants to strengthen its influence. And I think they are exaggerating.”

Geranmayeh views Iran’s escalation as “very deliberate and calculated. Iran can do much more to regain 2013 levels of nuclear activity, but it has refrained from doing so.”

Future movements

If we’re looking at carefully choreographed movements, albeit with music with different times, what’s next? The EU has suggested informal meetings with the assistance of the United States to try to get diplomacy to move a little more quietly and quickly. Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at Crisis Group, said the proposal has put the Iranians “in a bind.”

Attending without the sanctions relief they crave “could be construed as evidence of their desperation in Washington,” he said, “and if they don’t, they could be seen internationally as the inflexible party to blame.”

Váez was “cautiously optimistic” that the meeting would go ahead, and Geranmayeh echoed the broad consensus that hardliners seeking to derail diplomacy before Iran’s presidential elections in June had been “sidelined. “.

Iran reaches an agreement with the world nuclear watchdog for inspections over the next 3 months

“So far, it appears that the Biden administration is showing less flexibility to move down from its initial negotiating position that Iran has to act first to reverse its nuclear activities, while Iran has left the door open to a synchronized process,” he said.

Vaez said the problem could come later, when Biden’s team fulfills its desire to expand the long-standing JCPOA, with only about four years until some of its sunset clauses take effect, into something more durable and long-lasting. greater reach. “Playing” with the deal, Váez said, “much less fundamentally altering [its] terms … on the theory that he has more influence than the other would be a dangerous tactic. “

Thursday’s attacks on the Iraq-Syria border pose no existential threat to diplomacy with Iran. The nuclear deal was designed to simply deal with the risk of Iran getting the bomb, and not its broad competition for regional influence and other conventional weapons programs.

Yet they show the region’s habit of unpredictability, and how that can jeopardize paths to diplomacy that seem safe and obvious, but can be derailed due to frayed tempers and sharp, intensive retaliation.


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