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Biden...Summertime Santa Claus?

Biden...Summertime Santa Claus?

Monday, 22 August, 2022 - 10:45

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price spoke bluntly about the potential to conclude a nuclear deal despite the demands Iran has added. “We don’t approach this through the lens of a pessimistic view or with an optimistic view, in part because of the stakes of this. We have to be clear-eyed precisely because of the stakes of this. This is a central challenge. There would be no greater challenge to our foreign policy, to our national security, to the collective security of the international community should Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. When it comes to Foreign Terrorist Organizations, the President similarly has been clear on that. The FTO designations and other sanctions on the IRGC are beyond the scope of the JCPOA. We have made that point repeatedly.”

Although the arguments against reviving the deal in its 2015 form are too many to count, and the collateral damage from doing so would be immense, refuting the administration’s policy or view regarding the importance of returning to the agreement is not easy.

At the time of writing, it is difficult to discern whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic on this matter because of the ambiguity surrounding it. The apprehensions of those opposed to the agreement have not dissipated despite the justifications put forward by the Biden administration, first and foremost among which is Washington’s determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region that would ensue if it were to do so.

Added to this is that Biden had pledged to reverse Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement on the campaign trail. This pledge is especially significant in light of the Midterms, as all foreign policy in Washington eventually turns into domestic policy. Of course, the significance of campaign pledges pales in comparison to that of the massive changes propelled by the Ukrainian conflict, and some of the ensuing developments have been favorable to Iran, among them the fact that Russia has spiked oil prices to pressure Washington’s European allies and undermine their unity. The economic and social implications this has on Europe incentivize it to push for an agreement that gives more weight to European interests over pure US interests.

Another issue is Russia, China, and Iran becoming closer allies. The US administration believes that a deal with Tehran would contain Tehran and Beijing’s gravitation towards it. Although the administration is not absolutely sure of this outcome, it prefers to take the less harmful option of appeasing Iran and ending Russia’s blackmail through the manipulation of energy prices over letting Moscow and Beijing do as they please in several places around the world.

Regarding the Middle East, Washington believes that a return to the agreement would help the path of normalization between Israel and Arab states along the way, especially those states that are rightly deeply concerned by Iran’s actions and its interference in the affairs of several countries in the region, as these actions will likely get worse once sanctions are lifted.

Moreover, while the Republicans insist on their opposition to a return to the agreement, they have not put an alternative course of action besides the maximum pressure sanctions that Iran has managed to accommodate and live with thanks to the support of Moscow, Beijing, and other countries that have not refrained from buying Iranian oil, like India. The last thing to say about the US perspective is that Iran is not at the top of the agenda, especially given the challenges posed by Russia, China, the economy, and other issues.

On the other hand, there is nothing unusual about Washington not seeing Iran through an Arab or Israeli lens and pursuing the policies it deems to be in the American interest. As a result, the concerns of Washington’s allies in the region are justified, as are their questions about why Washington is rushing to revive the agreement at this particular juncture, although it is aware that Iran has continued to take hostile actions and Washington recognizes that it has negged on incorporating Iran’s actions in the agreement, from its destabilizing actions through its support for regional allies, ballistic missiles, and others. It is also worth noting that Tehran has exploited the fact that the Democrats will probably lose in the Midterms, which would hinder the US President’s ability to get things done during the remaining two years of his term. Furthermore, the agreement expires in less than a decade. After that, Iran will become free of the deal’s restrictions and be able to enrich Uranium whenever it wants and develop military nuclear capabilities.

It is not just a question of Iran’s actions in the region. Even as the negotiations were ongoing, the US Justice Department accused Shahram Poursafi, an Iranian citizen residing in Tehran, of planning to kill former National Security Advisor John Bolton and one million dollars being offered for another conspiracy targeting former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The FBI has identified Poursafi as a “member of the IRGC.”

According to a Washington Institute for Near East Policy study written by Matthew Levitt, Iran has a track record of carrying out assassinations, kidnappings, and surveillance targeting American and other Western interests across the globe- 105 operations over the 43 years since the 1979 Iranian revolution. In the last decade alone, Iran has carried out 62 of these attacks, eighteen of them on US soil. Twenty-three of them targeted Iranian dissidents, twenty-eight targeted Jews or Israelis, twenty targeted diplomats, fourteen against specifically Western targets, and 6 targeted the interests of the Arab Gulf states. According to the same source, a high-ranking US counterterrorism official stated, in 1997, that the US government had “credible information” confirming its assessment that Iran had been responsible for about 50 assassinations targeting political opponents and others abroad since 1990.

Like the Bolton conspiracy, the agents behind these acts were in contact with the IRGC, which affirms that they had not been lone-wolf attacks but conspiracies orchestrated by Iranian officials. These attacks continued even as the negotiations on reviving the deal were being held, and it would not be far-fetched to claim that the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie in New York came within the context of these attacks. In fact, the same thing happened during and after the original negotiations under Barack Obama.

One does not know whether to laugh or to cry upon seeing that Washington refuses Tehran’s demand that the IRGC be removed from the terror list and considering this refusal to be a victory while it knows that this same IRGC has more influence on Iran’s decision-making than any other institution or body.

Why does Iran undertake such destructive actions even during negotiations? In all likelihood, it is because Iranian officials believe no significant consequences will ensue from such acts of aggression in terms of accountability and punishment. It should be noted that the recent assassination attempts are nothing more than the result of how Iran reads US and Western reactions in general towards Vladimir Putin’s military operations in Georgia, Crimea, and Syria, all of which went unsanctioned until he went as far as invading Ukraine. That meek response explains the thoughts and actions of Tehran’s rulers.

With all of this in mind, it becomes very difficult to defend the administration’s position on the Iranian regime, even before adding the arguments that many American and Arab thinkers and politicians have repeated tirelessly. Among them is Karim Sadjadpour, who, in a recent article for this newspaper, argued that “Under Khamenei’s leadership, anti-Americanism has become central to Iran’s revolutionary identity…the more committed the United States has been to diplomacy, the lesser Iran’s sense of urgency to compromise. Even if the nuclear deal is revived, Tehran’s worldview will endure.”

In short, neither diplomacy nor sanctions are effective, and war is ruled out of the question given the complex and difficult circumstances. Some of Washington’s allies are floundering, adopting ambivalent positions and policies. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others are returning to Syria in compliance with Russia’s request. Israel is anxious about the outcome of the Vienna negotiations and their implication, and it has not ended its strong efforts to restrict the US push.

Two things are unfortunate. The first is that the Iranian ploy got the better of Washington and the West in general, achieving all its goals through its nuclear threats. The second is the state of turmoil in the region, where anxiety and instability will continue to prevail with or without a return to Obama’s fateful agreement, as isolation and crises are the oxygen the Tehran mullahs’ regime breathes.

Will Biden do it and become a Santa Claus who arrives in the heat of August and gifts Iran this deal?

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