Nuclear Iran
Nuclear IraniStock

Iran’s nuclear program is one of the most important issues of US foreign policy at this time. This is not only so under a new US administration. There is also much speculation about the possibility that current President Donald Trump will end his presidential term with a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Iranian mullahs worry about it. The killing of top nuclear scientist Muhsin Fahrizadeh elicited angry reactions from the mullahs, but made them worry even more.

Indeed, President Trump has a serious motive for this scenario, given the failure of subjugating the mullahs with a tougher sanctions mechanism. The latter takes a long time to achieve its objectives, especially with regimes that do not care about the suffering from sanctions and see their survival as evidence of what they describe as firmness and resistance.

Iran’s mullahs pursued a strategy of appeasement with Trump, hoping that a new White House resident would come to change his policy. Their enthusiasm for this strategy has been boosted since President-elect Joe Biden announced in his campaign that he plans to go back to the nuclear deal with Iran as soon as he gets to the White House.

Reopening the issue for a thorough discussion before making a hasty decision is a good thing. It is also wise to avoid repeating the mistake the Obama administration made in ignoring the views of Washington’s Gulf allies.
What the Iranian mullahs need to realize is that a return to the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the P5+1 group is not that simple. They have to understand that there is a difference between election promises and putting them into practice. For example, President Trump did not keep his pledge to withdraw from the nuclear deal until more than two years after coming to the West Wing.

President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to make a decision to return to the nuclear deal the very next day after taking office, unlike what is believed by a handful of Iranian dreamers who wish for a lift of the tough sanctions imposed by President Trump throughout his presidency.

I have said this before. I say it again, the American position on the Iranian nuclear issue should not be the arena for political debates between Democrats and Republicans.

The issue is not just about the relationship between the US and the Iranian regime. It directly affects Washington’s relations with its Mideast strategic allies. This point should not be ignored, as the administration of former President Barack Obama did in one of its most serious mistakes.

I am convinced that this time the Democrat administration will be different, even though many former Obama administration officials are eager to play a role in reminding President-elect Biden that this issue is a priority.

In his interview with French newspaper Le Point, Robert Malley, a senior advisor to former US President Barack Obama, said that “First of all, Iran is not isolated[.] [Biden] wants a return to the nuclear deal.” This statement does not reflect the fact that Malley was an advisor to Barack Obama. It reflects his position as a member of the US negotiating team on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Malley is reviving his political legacy without taking into account the strategic interests of the US. He even spoke on behalf of the president-elect to announce with assurance that Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris are in the process of defining their foreign policy and that one of Biden’s priorities is to return to international commitments, including the Paris climate accord and the Iranian nuclear deal.

In the same statement, Malley acknowledged that a return to the Paris climate agreement would be easier to return to. “A US return to the JCPOA, on the other hand, promises to be much more delicate, particularly because of the geopolitical consequences for the Middle East and the reluctance of US allies in the region” to give it a kiss of life.

Interesting, though strange, this statement confirms that the decision will not be at all easy for the President-elect, especially considering what the former US official did not mention, namely, the Iranian mullahs’ continued provocations and their going beyond the authorized limit for uranium enrichment under the nuclear agreement, as well as their growing threats and interventions in neighboring countries.

Moreover, the duration of the agreement itself is almost over and to return to it under the same conditions would be insulting to the US. It would also be a free gift to the mullahs of Iran who claim to be able to subject Washington to their conditions and demands.

Iranian President Rouhani and his team saw the election of Mr. Biden as a new springboard for their country. With the new US administration, we have an “opportunity,” Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting. We will move from an “atmosphere of threats” to an “atmosphere of opportunity,” he added.

Tehran’s return to its commitments under the agreement “can happen automatically,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif assured in comments published in an Iranian daily paper. “If Mr Biden is willing to fulfill US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord […] and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5+1.”

This confirms what we have said about the mullahs’ overconfidence in the US willingness to return to the agreement. Things are not going to go as smoothly as they think. But the incoming US administration must also be cautious and avoid the pitfalls.

Reopening the issue for a thorough discussion before making a hasty decision is a good thing. It is also wise to avoid repeating the mistake the Obama administration made in ignoring the views of Washington’s Gulf allies. Without conditions and without prior understanding on the important points not covered by the dying nuclear deal, the return of the US to the agreement will put a strain on American diplomacy.

Such a move will give the mullahs a chance to waste time, perhaps for the four years that Biden will devote to finding a new version of the nuclear deal that will satisfy their whims. After all, with their indefatigability, the Iranians took more than five years to negotiate an old deal.

Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate