Biden’s Nuclear Dilemma: Iran’s Steps on Enhancing Stakes

President-Elect Joe Biden hopes to revive the Iran nuclear deal after taking office, but the task is only more challenging.

Driving news: Iran announced today that it would begin enriching uranium by 20% – within striking distance of the weapon level at its underground Fordow facility.

  • Hours later, Tehran announced that it had seized a flag-off tanker from South Korea in the Strait of Hormuz, allegedly for pollution. This is another reminder to the world of Iran’s ability to disrupt an important shipping corridor.
  • Meanwhile, the Iranian insurgency is possible to the United States and its regional partners a year after the US invasion, which killed Iranian General Qasim Soleimani, as well as the recent assassination of Iran’s chief nuclear scientist Mohsin Fakhriadeh.
big picture

Iran’s nuclear acceleration and provoking regional tensions, in Biden’s view, are the results of President Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach after being overtaken by the 2015 agreement. Biden is ready to lift nuclear sanctions and put the US back in the deal – if Iran returns to compliance.

  • Incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN’s Farid Zakaria on Sunday that Biden followed negotiations to disrupt Iran’s regional behavior, known as the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA), after returning to the deal will do.
  • Iran’s ballistic missile program, Sullivan said, “should be on the table” in those negotiations.

The framework can appear in place, As President Hassan Rouhani says, if the US removes its sanctions, Iran is also ready to comply. But today’s announcement of prosperity underscores how thorny the process will be.

  • If Iran increases significant amounts of uranium by 20%, its nuclear breakout time will be “very, very short”, says Ernest Moniz, who was instrumental in negotiating the 2015 deal with Barack Obama as energy secretary Played the role. “The important question is how much they make.”
state of play

The 20% enrichment move passed over Rouhani’s objections is part of a law – which calls for the United Nations to postpone nuclear inspections if sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors are not lifted until February.

  • There would be a “game-changer” that goes beyond any step taken by Iran, Moniz says, because “it then becomes more difficult to argue that we know they don’t engage in an arms program.”

Iran has also demanded compensation To the detriment from the US sanctions, although Rouhani has shown some resilience at that point.

  • More challenging Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif may be urged that Iran is not ready to negotiate issues beyond its nuclear program – at least not before US sanctions.

What will happen next: A presidential election is due in Iran in June, with a strict administration expected to replace Rouhani.

  • Returning to the deal after being burned by Trump is a highly controversial proposal.
  • “This is probably the kind of work that is easy for the outgoing administration, because the JCPOA is not the most popular item in some political circles in Iran,” says Rob Malle, Obama’s former central adviser and now president of the International Crisis. group. The direction of the trip will eventually be determined by Iran’s supreme leader, Malle said.

Where things stand: If Biden wants a deal with Rouhani, he will have just five months to get it.


Biden would have to resist a swift withdrawal of the agreement from Israel and the Gulf states, as well as Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.

Photo illustration: Ada Amer / Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Abused Tibbon (AFP) / Getty Images

What they are saying Opponents argue that Biden has been given a strong hand by Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign and that he should play it cautiously.

“It’s really an economic war The US is fighting against Iran, “says Gaird Ard, a former French ambassador to the US (2014–2019), and a permanent representative of the United Nations Security Council (2009-2014). It is true that it benefits the US.”

  • There is already a condemnation over public comments from Israel and Gulf officials discouraging Biden from returning to the 2015 deal Again Attempting to negotiate a deal addressing regional concerns.
  • Sullivan argues that after Iran’s nuclear program is “back in a box” the US would be better off negotiating those issues.

One of the most controversial points Indexing will occur.

  • Iran says it will comply with the US withdrawal of the sanctions, while Biden says it will lift the sanctions after Iran complies.
  • Russia will have to take several technical steps, including sending uranium out of the country, apart from Russia.
  • The process can be completed in about four months, Moniz says – if Iran “goes all out”, but a slow-down process accelerates, with Iranian steps relieving US sanctions.

On the other hand: The Trump administration has attempted to put Biden’s way back to the JCPOA, imposing sanctions on Iran for non-nuclear issues.

  • Biden could have lifted those sanctions without congressional approval – and Iranians may have demanded that he do so – but Iran hopes the issue becomes another domestic political minefield.
What to see

Iran’s recent nuclear acceleration, And his threat to expel inspectors will likely be Biden’s primary concern in the near term – and the purpose of these acts is apparently to force him to move quickly.

Illustration: Annelies Caposilla / Axios

Yes but: “Some steps Iran can take behind,” Malle says. I think there comes a point at which more pressure may mean that the Biden administration will change the curriculum as well. “

Flashback: JCPOA – European signatories to France, Germany and the UK worked hard over the two years following Trump’s return to preserve the deal until the next US election.

  • Now, the candidate who is rescuing Iran is two weeks away from the Oval Office, the highest priority.
  • But even he admits that the way forward is uncertain. Biden’s pick for secretary of state Tony Blinken has said the US will work in partnership with Europe on Iran – whether Iran eventually returns to comply or not.

European leaders and diplomats will try To make negotiations between the US and Iran easier, says Arad. But he remembers years of reckless European efforts to negotiate with Iran before Obama raised the issue.

Bottom-line: “We knew from the beginning that the real issue was between the United States and Iran,” he says, “and now this is even more the case.”


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