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April 29, 2021 11:45 am

The Myth of a ‘Longer and Stronger’ Iran Deal

avatar by Daniel Roth


A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. Photo: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

For months, President Biden and his surrogates have consistently claimed that their goal in engaging Iran and in any potential re-entry into the Iran nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — is to create a “longer and stronger” agreement. In truth, it’s been an empty slogan, and whatever hopes that critics of the JCPOA had of President Biden explicitly seeking a fortified agreement may have been dashed when the State Department revealed its intention to willingly consider lifting economic sanctions on the regime.

In other words: the Biden administration could be preparing to squander hard-won leverage over the Iranian regime — without any changes to Iran’s malignant behavior or concrete assurances of its willingness to negotiate with the US over its missile development program, support for terrorism, or gross human rights abuses.

In fact, the only diplomatic route to achieve additional JCPOA measures would be to use the additional leverage that has accumulated since the US withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018.

Providing sanctions relief would deal a significant blow to US national security interests and those of our allies in the region, who are routinely threatened or actively under attack by the regime in Tehran and its proxy forces. And it would provide a clear choice for Congressional Democrats who opposed the JCPOA but were willing to allow the new president the opportunity to build his team and his strategy. Now they know the White House’s strategy, and must decide if they will support it.

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While it was never clear how “long” or how “strong” any supposed new agreement with Iran would be, or how the US would convince Tehran to scrap an agreement that works to its great advantage, a new approach was, at first, a welcomed respite in Washington where many looked to President Biden as a potentially unifying figure. And when the clear-eyed Antony Blinken was nominated as Secretary of State, it gave more cause for optimism that a better deal could materialize than the one that docked on the shores of Lake Geneva in 2013 and was later christened in 2015.

But these sensible pledges no longer look plausible, and if implemented, this new strategy could undermine Congressional confidence in Secretary Blinken, too. After all, in his Senate confirmation hearings, Secretary Blinken testified that Iranian funds frozen in foreign-exchange reserves would remain as such, and that lifting terrorism sanctions would be contrary to America’s national security interests. Then, following his confirmation and as recently as March 10, Secretary Blinken assured the world, “Unless and until Iran comes back into compliance, they won’t be getting that [sanctions] relief.”

The simple truth is that President Biden cannot achieve a “longer and stronger” agreement if his strategy is to give up all the power that his predecessor built up.

In recent weeks, the administration signaled its departure from the “lengthen-strengthen” paradigm when a new phrase began emanating from the White House: “compliance for compliance.” This did not materialize out of thin air — as the phrase was previously used by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in December.

It is doubtful we will continue to hear either formulation for much longer, frankly, as the bar for an acceptable deal keeps lowering. As of today, the most accurate depiction of the US strategy could be termed “concede and surrender,” unless the Biden administration changes its approach.

Daniel Roth is the Research Director for United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).

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