Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Biden Administration Split Over 'Seriousness' of Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

Biden Administration Split Over 'Seriousness' of Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

Thursday, 23 June, 2022 - 06:15
US President Joe Biden before leaving Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico (AP)

Nearly four months after the nuclear negotiations with Iran were suspended, Tehran still shows a lack of interest in accepting the US offer to return to the nuclear agreement.

The Biden administration publicly asserts that it is willing to negotiate a return to the nuclear deal. However, many bipartisan US officials say the Iranian regime's actions make it more difficult, denying any "imminent deal."

The Biden administration is divided over the seriousness of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Some current and former officials familiar with US intelligence believe Iran's primary goal is sanctions relief, and its leaders are content to hold the threat of further nuclear development as leverage.

Others believe Iran wants to produce a nuclear weapon because the country's leaders have noted how North Korea and Russia, both nuclear-armed states, have managed to avoid direct western interference like invasion and regime change.

Last week, the US Iran envoy Rob Malley testified in the Senate. Malley told lawmakers last month that "nothing is off the table" regarding ensuring Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon, including military action. But he reiterated that the US position is that "the only real solution here is a diplomatic one."

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reiterated this position last week, saying the US remains committed to diplomacy as the best way to address its concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

Some foreign policy experts believe Iran is less desperate for sanctions relief than it was during the Obama administration because it brought significant revenue through oil exports.

Last month, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said that his country's oil exports had doubled since August.

The Central Bank of Iran reported in February that it made $18.6 billion in oil sales during the first half of the Persian year, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent embargo on Russian oil exports, which led to a hike in prices.

Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Hill he was not optimistic about such a deal.

Menendez indicated that the administration may think it is strategically suitable to keep the offer on the table, but "I don't see the pathway forward."

"I'm not optimistic there will be such a deal. The administration believes that strategically it makes sense to keep the offer on the table, but I don't see the pathway forward. That's my own view."

But he added that accepting a new accord is a divisive proposition within Iran's political establishment, making it difficult to revive the agreement.

Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Jim Risch said the prospects for an agreement were "not encouraging."

"I do know where the negotiations stand, and they should've been over. They promised us it was going to end in February if there wasn't a deal," he said, referring to what some senators thought was an assurance by administration officials not to let the talks drag on without buy-in from Iran.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that US intelligence and military officials are closely watching for signs of escalation between Iran and Israel ahead of Biden's trip to the region, given that Israel appears to have escalated its targeted killings and other gray-zone operations inside Iran in recent months.

Israel does not inform the US of its operations beforehand and often never acknowledges its role, even privately.

Biden administration officials, in turn, have taken a broadly hands-off approach to Israel's operations, multiple current and former officials familiar with the discussions between the two countries told CNN, and have not directly asked Israel to knock it off.

Editor Picks