Biden, the nuclear deal and the dicey decision

An unconditional return to the structurally and fundamentlly flawed Iran agreement would be a major political win for the mullahs. Op-ed..

Dr. Salem AlKetbi  ,

Joe Biden
Joe Biden

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

There is every reason to believe that President-elect Joe Biden is moving forward to resolve the issue of a return to the nuclear agreement signed with Iran. But the question remains how. Will it be conditional or will it be based on some backroom deals with the mullahs’ regime? Will it be an unconditional return in the hope that other rounds of negotiations will follow to improve the terms of the deal?

The position of the new US administration is no longer boiling down to statements by the President-elect. It also involves House Democrats. According to press reports, 150 Democratic legislators have signed a letter of support for the President-elect’s plan to return the United States to a nuclear agreement without new conditions. If reports on the number of Democratic legislators are accurate, this would prevent Congress from blocking Biden’s plan to return to the nuclear deal.

The unconditional return of a flawed agreement would be a major political win for the mullahs. The United States would only receive a promise of nothing from the Iranian regime to strictly abide by the terms of the agreement.

The dilemma is that the bargain - a return to the agreement in exchange for compliance with its terms - is lost in advance for one simple reason. The Trump administration did not withdraw from the nuclear deal because the mullahs violated its terms, but rather because of structural and fundamental flaws in the deal, whether the Iranian side committed to it or not.

Objections and criticisms of the agreement came immediately after it was signed, not after its enforcement and consequent non-compliance by the mullahs, especially with regard to the uranium enrichment rate, knowing that violations began mainly after the US pullout in 2018 and not before.

The problem lies not in compliance with the conditions, but in the substance of the accord itself. The risk in this case is that there may be a partisan commitment to the accord. Democrats see it as a success under the administration of former President Barack Obama; to return to it is to restore their credibility.

Democrats are ignoring the strategic aspect of assessing this agreement. President-elect Biden himself believes that a return to the agreement would be an entry point to improve its terms and get back to the negotiating table with the mullahs in search of a more comprehensive version.

It seems that Biden has engaged in political dogfights that ignore Iran’s growing level of danger, giving the mullahs free gifts to buy time and achieve their expansionist goals, with little benefit to the US and its allies.

The return of the United States must be made conditional on resuming negotiations on expanding the agreement or adding an annex that would include the rest of the provisions designed to establish true regional security in the Middle East.
In fact, there is an implicit recognition that the nuclear agreement signed by the P5+1 and the mullahs’ regime in 2015 is flawed. This is not only true for American political leaders, Democrats and Republicans. European signatories of the agreement are also aware of it.

Germany, France and Britain have also long sought to persuade the mullahs to engage in negotiations on their missile program and Iran’s regional policy, but to no avail. The sobering observation is that the past approach of unconditional US return to the agreement is a political win for the mullahs. Indeed, the Trump administration’s policy of severe sanctions aimed at taming the Iranian regime and forcing it to agree to renegotiate the deal risks going down the drain.

Many around the world are also questioning the decision-making mechanisms of the only superpower dominating the current world order, wondering whether it is managed institutionally as it is supposed to, or by individual decisions that can be reversed or bypassed.

If this is the case, I can readily say that the mullahs could make Biden lose all the time of his presidential term without coming up with a new formula to correct the terms of the existing agreement.

One can even expect the mullahs to continue their expansionist policy and threats to US allies. They could also maintain the power of military missiles, such that it would be hard to put pressure on them later to accept acceptable compromises on any controversial issues.

There is a third way out of the problem of US unconditional re-engagement with the nuclear agreement. Since it was signed, the agreement aimed at guaranteeing security has not achieved any of its objectives.

So, the return of the United States must be made conditional on resuming negotiations on expanding the agreement or adding an annex that would include the rest of the provisions designed to establish true regional security in the Middle East.

This would ensure curbing Iran’s ambition to dominate certain countries in the region, funding of sectarian organizations that generate chaos and unrest, and ballistic missile program that threatens countries in the region and reaches Europe.

Ultimately, any decision by the United States to unconditionally return to the nuclear agreement would be a slippery slope that would be detrimental to the long-term strategic interests of the United States. It would undermine the administration’s new relationship with its traditional allies in the region.

It would be an unfortunate beginning for a new administration that seeks to appease many external problems and focus on domestic issues and crises. All of this risks establishing a new era of Iranian interference in the region.

The US would eventually even be pressured to correct its position by engaging in a broad and unwanted military conflict with the Iranian mullahs. Iranians, no doubt, will do their utmost to realize their strategic ambitions very soon.