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Would Biden Rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal?

Would Biden Rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal?

Thursday, 9 July, 2020 - 12:15
Biden giving a speech in March 2020 | AP/ Matt Rourke
Beirut- Hussam Itani

With Biden having established a significant lead over Trump in the polls, many in the Middle East have been asking themselves how the former would deal with Iran, especially the Arab states that are threatened by Iran, and face problems that diplomacy has failed to solve.

In the latest opinion poll released by CNN, 53% of those polled said that they would vote for Biden in November, while only 41% said that they would vote for Trump. Trump is trying to mount a comeback, but it seems unlikely that he will manage the kind of significant achievement, neither domestically nor globally, needed to dramatically alter the numbers and overturn Biden’s lead, which is dramatic indeed.

Joe Biden supported the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration signed with Iran in 2015, and his position on sanctions raises many questions. Last April, he and several Democrats called for the easing of sanctions to allow Iran to obtain medical aid that would help it confront the coronavirus epidemic. He also criticized the cancellation of the nuclear agreement in 2018, which made him the preferred candidate in American circles that support a comprehensive settlement with Iran.

Nevertheless, it seems that two issues must be brought to our attention when assessing Biden's position on Iran in general. First, internally, the administration that will enter the White House next November, whether Republican or Democrat, will be faced with massive pressing challenges. These problems begin with the country’s catastrophic economic situation, with unprecedented unemployment rates resulting from the epidemic and its implications on the economy that was almost totally paralyzed. They extend to include the growing ethnic and class divisions between whites and blacks, rich and the poor and all other social and economic identities.

It goes without saying that the axis of American politics has been shifting away from external issues to domestic policies since the end of the Cold War at the latest. Voters' interest in foreign policy has significantly diminished, as some speculate about a "return to isolationism", a tendency that prevailed in the United States before the Second World War. Long overdue solutions to deep domestic issues will take precedence, as foreign policy will be of secondary importance to the administration.

Second, Biden’s position on Iran is nuanced, which contrasts with the current administration’s approach of total hostility. The American media’s "reference" for this divergence in approach is a television interview given by Biden’s foreign policy advisor Antony Blinken. In it, he declares that the United States, with Biden as president, would return to the nuclear agreement provided that Iran accepts to abide by it first and that Washington, with its partners, develops a stronger and longer-term agreement to monitor any Iranian activity that the West may deem unacceptable, while admitting that things have changed since the Trump administration withdrew from it and that complex new negotiations are called for. Another Biden adviser, Jake Sullivan, believes that both those who supported and opposed withdrawing from the agreement underestimated the efficacy of the new sanctions imposed on Iran by Trump, noting that they are “very effective sanctions, in the narrow sense of the word.”

Thus, the statements and declarations made by the Biden campaign have been contradictory and paint a complex picture that is very different from the widespread simplification that a Biden presidency would lead to the immediate lifting of sanctions and a return to the old agreement. The situation in the region and Iran has changed profoundly since 2018, due to the sanctions and the changing region’s political climate, to say nothing about the Iranian regime itself and the disputes concerning Ali Khamenei’s successor and the citizens’ restlessness.

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