Biden and Khamenei’s nail-biting game

Irani's mullahs are gradually moving to the final stage of their North Korean-style brinkmanship strategy, upping the heat on the US. Op-ed.

Dr. Salem AlKetbi ,

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
State Department Photo by Freddie Everett

It has become clear from the stated evidence that the nailbiting game between Iran and US sides in Vienna is coming to an end, ahead of “tough decisions,” as Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s chief negotiator, put it. Clearly, the Iranian mullahs are gradually moving toward the final stage of their North Korean-style brinkmanship strategy and turning up the heat on the United States.

They are weeding out the last moderates from the Iranian political scene and mobilizing the forces of extremism into confrontation, after pushing a hardline figure to succeed President Hassan Rouhani in power.

Similarly, they are ordering their sectarian arms to escalate militarily against US forces in Iraq.

And then there is their trump card.

That is to stop cooperating with the IAEA and refuse to provide it with any new information on Iran’s nuclear program. The US side may be in a fairly reactive position. But it is trying to take back the initiative by responding militarily with force and determination to Iranian attacks and provocations in Iraq, and then to show indifference to the fate of previous rounds of negotiations in Vienna.

“It’s getting closer,” US Secretary of State Tony Blinken said of the day when the Biden administration might pull out of the nuclear negotiations, suggesting for the first time that his country might withdraw from the talks. This is a scenario that was ruled out in the mullah system calculations.

The Iranians believe that President Biden has no choice but to lift the sanctions and bring the United States back into the deal. This has prompted the White House to change its strategy, to be indifferent to the fate of these negotiations and to imply a threat to walk away from them.

When asked about the start date of the seventh round of negotiations in Vienna, the White House spokesperson said she had no idea when the next round would start. Next came the remarks of the US envoy to Iran, Robert Malley. He said that Washington would not agree to lift all sanctions against Iran.

If the deal Tehran wants is not in its country’s interest, it will withdraw from the Vienna talks, he added. The mullahs’ regime talks about the lack of urgency to reach a deal. Iran says it has already won the sanctions battle.

However, it is unclear why Iran insists on lifting these sanctions while it claims they are pointless and victory has been had.

All this is to say that the sticking point of the negotiations is now the sanctions that the Biden administration is supposed to lift. This is an expected atmosphere before the supposedly decisive seventh round, a round of tough decisions on key issues.

So it is possible to understand what is behind all these threats. One question many are asking: Is there a high chance that the US will quit the negotiations because it refuses to lift all sanctions against Iran? The
One question many are asking: Is there a high chance that the US will quit the negotiations because it refuses to lift all sanctions against Iran? The answer is flat out no.
answer is flat out no.

The White House will not accept an easy withdrawal from the negotiations. The only strategic alternative would be a military response to the threats of Iran’s nuclear program. This would be in the presence of hardliners who will push for accelerated uranium enrichment and an outright end to cooperative relations with the IAEA.

That is, clouding the only available means for nuclear control and understanding some of what is happening inside Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Iranian and US sides are likely to change their negotiating strategies as the Iranian political landscape changes.

They may go through a new period of pulse-taking and intention probing with maximum pressure, threats, and a war of words. The US president is aware of the importance of keeping his campaign promise to return to the nuclear deal.

He will not easily agree to withdraw from the negotiations and leave the door open to a scenario of chaos. Nor will he agree to submit to threats from the mullahs and is keen to respond to any Iranian attack on US interests and troops in Iraq.

Maintaining US deterrence and leverage is the main guarantor for future discussions on other major issues with the mullahs’ regime. The mullahs’ hardliners are testing the limits of American power under Biden’s presidency. They believe that escalating pressure and threats is the only way to get major concessions from Washington.

Some are betting on their success in achieving this goal. But winning a major deal with Washington will not go unpunished for Israel.

I believe that President Biden’s promise that Iran will not have nuclear capabilities during his presidential term shows that he has decided either to strike a deal with the Iranian mullahs or to scuttle Iran’s nuclear program before it achieves a major qualitative breakthrough.

The problem with dealing with a regime like Iran’s is that it is suicidal. It doesn’t care about the impact of economic sanctions. It doesn’t care about the future of millions of unemployed young Iranians.

It is unaffected by the outbreaks of disease and epidemics among Iranians. It just prides itself on violating state sovereignty and funding sectarian military arms. That is why the room for maneuver for US negotiators may be small.

There is no way out of this impasse, except that the mullahs sense that the fate of their regime is at stake if the Vienna negotiations stall. In short, the mullahs’ regime is used to playing the waiting game with the United States in previous negotiation experiences. It also used to win what it wanted at the end of the round, except for the Trump period.

But will history repeat itself, despite the experience of President Biden and his negotiating team with the Iranians? Or will the White House draw up new rules of the game to keep Iran in check, strengthening the US position in deterring its major global rivals?

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



top