The meteoric developments related to the Iran nuclear deal are, in one way or another, a reflection of the changes in the post-Covid world order. The way President Biden’s administration, and that of former President Donald Trump, handled the issue highlights the limited ability of the United States to marshal an international consensus on the issue.
Indeed, the discord arising in recent years between US and European positions on how to deal with the nuclear issue has been a catalyst for Iranian defiance of the US position to date.
US policies under former President Trump generally veered from the international consensus on many issues, not just the Iranian.
As the US resumes its previous policies under the current Democratic administration and seeks to forge international alignment, obstacles stand in the way of a resolution to the Iranian crisis. What is happening now is that the entire Iranian crisis has been reduced to a million-dollar question.
Who will return to the nuclear deal first: the mullahs of Iran or the Americans? It is no longer a question of diplomacy, the solutions it requires and the alternatives it imposes in such a zero-sum situation. Rather, it is a matter of complex political considerations and calculations on the part of each side in the crisis.
President Biden, who announced early on his intention to return to the nuclear deal, fears that the go-back decision would be a sweet deal for the mullahs. He knows that they will not give him the opportunity to easily secure the comprehensive agreement he has in mind.
The mullahs want to push the White House to return unconditionally to the agreement as a political and propaganda win that they are eagerly hoping for in order to save face and restore a scrap of the respect they have lost among their supporters due to the blows and setbacks they sustained since the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Truth is, the rules of the regional and international game are not the same as they used to be. The United States can no longer manage its relations with the mullahs alone and needs the support of the other major international powers.
The European Union is perhaps more concerned about the impact of the coronavirus upset on its economies. It shows little zest for getting more involved in this issue. Russia is trying to leverage international strategic influence gained in Syria and has played a central role in resolving the Iranian crisis by calling for a regional security conference.
For Russia, the way out of the current standstill is give-and-take diplomacy, so that the parties (Iran and the United States) meet halfway and make mutual concessions. This is a vision that may make sense. But it is in some ways a win for the mullahs.
In the main, the mullahs want international recognition of their growing regional influence and role. The evidence suggests that things could evolve into an offer based on simultaneous steps. But this option, I think, would be the first political defeat for the Biden administration in dealing with international issues.
The reason is simple: the mullahs will definitely not give him what he wants—a “comprehensive deal. ” Above all, they want sanctions lifted and enough oxygen to buy them time to maneuver, perhaps until the end of President Biden’s first term in office. The follow-up question: Is time in the mullahs’ interest? Yes.
As time passes without making concessions on the nuclear issue or the missile program and without withdrawing from Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Iran’ s influence on all these issues is assured. There is also the time factor of getting closer to having enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb.
President Biden’s administration now has reduced policy options. The administration has resumed working with allies to solve problems.
It is now caught between the position of European allies who are pushing the US to return to the nuclear deal, and the position of Congress, where some 140 members sent a letter urging the Biden administration to work toward a “comprehensive deal” with Iran’s mullahs.
Most telling, US lawmakers are refusing to make further concessions and are demanding that Iran’s missile program be included in the planned deal. The question of how President Biden’s administration will achieve this remains unanswered as things stand.
The management of the Iranian nuclear crisis may be one of the most important determinants of the effectiveness of US foreign policy under President Biden. It would be, not to overstate it, one of the determinants of US strategic weight and prestige in the post-Covid world.
Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate