Biden should aim for better diplomacy with Iran, not a ‘better deal’

As the international community eagerly watches the final stages of negotiations on the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, senior officials from the United States, Europe and Iran attend the Munich Security Conference This weekend. While the presence of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in the same room seems like a golden opportunity to bridge the remaining gaps, they are unlikely to cross paths. After its experience under the Trump administration, Iran sees no basis for speaking directly to the United States and has opted for nearly a year of indirect negotiations that have slowly moved closer to a deal. Finally, one seems within reach.

As one of Presidents Biden campaign promises who likes broad support of the American public, reviving the JCPOA would mean that Iran would once again place its nuclear program under strict limits, enforced by extensive verification and monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, the United States would lift the painful sanctions that caused significant economic difficulties in Iran over the past three years. Still, even as a slew of officials point to progress in the talks, most observers remain focused on what could happen if the talks go off the rails, speculating on Biden’s fate. plan B options as it faces the risk of renewed tensions, nuclear crisis and even war. But what if plan A works? This question deserves to be examined more seriously, especially since the talks have more and more chances of success.

Upon taking office, Biden and his team argued there was a smarter way to crack down on Iran: reinstate the original nuclear deal to contain and roll back Iran’s nuclear advances, then press on. a “longer and louder” chord. Senator Bob Menendez criticized the administration on the Senate floor earlier this month, stating “I haven’t heard any parameters of the terms “longer” or “stronger” yet or if that’s even a feasible prospect. Critics like Menendez have pointed to the need to cut Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for proxy groups, which the nuclear deal does not do. Other Republican lawmakers have joined him, calling on the Biden administration to backtrack and pursue what it believes to be a “better” deal with Iran, listing a series of maximalist demands reminiscent of the Trump era, even though that approach has not generated only an expansion of the Iranian nuclear program and increased regional tensions. Such appeals will be on full display in Munich, with Senator Lindsay Graham due to present a proposal end all Iranian uranium enrichment, rekindling a failed negotiating position that Tehran would never accept.

For Iran, abandoning its pursuit of nuclear power has always been a failure, and there will be little appetite to expand the scope of the JCPOA or rely on the terms of the agreement in the near future. Iran’s experience with the nuclear deal has been bitter. In early 2018, just two years after the agreement was implemented, President Trump unilaterally violated the JCPOA as it was enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution. Iran was certified as being in full compliance with its commitments, but Trump resigned anyway. He reimposed secondary sanctions to the dismay of remaining participants, including European allies who desperately tried to persuade him not to. Iran, plunged into a deep recession which recently completedremained in compliance with the agreement for another year, eventually choosing to develop its own leverage by slowly resuming nuclear activities prohibited by the agreement.

As it now pursues the restoration of the nuclear deal, the Raisi administration is understandably concerned about the credibility of US commitments. There is a real chance that a new US president could ‘rip up’ the nuclear deal again in the future, and the lack of legal and political guarantees that President Biden or his deeply divided Congress can offer Iran to prevent this makes it more difficult to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion. Even if Iranian leaders admit that such guarantees are not possible and take the deal for what it is, they will resist efforts to strengthen or lengthen the JCPOA or strike an entirely new deal without first seeing if the rehabilitation of the agreement offers the expected benefits. . Indeed, it would be a mistake for the US to immediately push for a ‘stronger and longer’ deal, especially since it lacks the leverage, credibility and bandwidth. to conclude it.

But even if the United States remains unable to strike a new deal with Iran in the near term, the Biden administration can still use diplomacy to address concerns that go beyond Iran’s nuclear program and are often cited by critics. reviews of the JCPOA. To do this, Biden would have to recruit allies and partners in Europe and the Middle East, and even in Russia and China, to advance the interests they share with the United States in their diplomatic relations in course with Iran. Ensuring that US interests are represented in this ongoing diplomacy is smarter than pursuing the unrealistic goal of a “better” deal, especially given the continuing differences of opinion between Democrats and Republicans over whether the JCPOA is a “good” deal in the first place. The Biden administration can tap into three diplomatic channels over the next two years at a minimum.

First, the Biden administration can take advantage of the remarkable dialogues taking place between Iran and its Arab neighbors. U.S. partners in the region, namely Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have all increased their bilateral engagements with Iran, seeking to directly address concerns arising from Iran’s policies and security posture. Iran as part of a regional push for de-escalation. Iraq has also hosted several regional players, including Iran, for broader multilateral discussions. That these countries take responsibility for reducing threats, rather than outsourcing that work to outside powers such as the United States, is a positive development that the Biden administration should encourage. Unlike when the JCPOA was first carried out, the Gulf countries are now welcoming deepening economic ties with Iran. In turn, a priority should be ensuring that US sanctions relief helps further foster the nascent economic diplomacy underway between Iran and its neighbors.

Second, while Iran’s relations with the so-called E3 – the United Kingdom, France and Germany – are strained, the leadership of the European Union has played a vital role in creating a diplomatic space for the resumption of talks on the JCPOA. If the agreement is reinstated, the EU will continue to play an important role not only in coordinating the implementation of the agreement, but also in facilitating dialogue on a wider set of issues. If the EU can play this role, it is partly thanks to the constructive relations that many of its Member States have with Iran and because of the important role that Europe continues to play in the Iranian economy, a role who will be boosted if the United States rejoins the JCPOA and lifts secondary sanctions.

Third, while the United States is concerned about Russia’s and China’s growing strategic security relationship with Iran and lacks a common understanding with them on many aspects of Iran’s domestic and foreign policy, when ‘this is about supporting the JCPOA and keeping the peace in the Persian Gulf, Iran is a rare issue on which Washington finds its interests with Moscow and Beijing broadly aligned. In particular, it should be noted that Russia and China have played a role constructive role in the negotiations on the future of the JCPOA. Moscow has leveraged its relationship with Tehran and its deep technical nonproliferation expertise to facilitate the indirect talks between the United States and Iran. China has also leveraged its unique economic relationship – as Iran’s only current major oil customer – to encourage Tehran to remain engaged in the JCPOA talks. Both countries will remain important players in the nuclear and economic fields, and both Russia and China have proposed frameworks to improve security in the Persian Gulf. If the JCPOA gets back on track, these proposals should be explored, possibly under the auspices of the United Nations.

To take advantage of these three diplomatic avenues, the Biden administration must follow two simple rules: don’t complicate politics and don’t impede the economy. After the damage wrought by his predecessor, Biden lacks the credibility and bandwidth to engage in expansive new negotiations. His critics in Washington know this and are setting him up for failure. Still, Biden has the wherewithal to make progress with Iran. In his aforementioned speech, Menendez insisted that “multilateral cooperation is essential to achieve a positive result. It’s true. But the “multilateral sanctions efforts” demanded by Menendez are not the only type of cooperation Biden can pursue.

As world leaders gather at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich this weekend, they must not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. If Plan A succeeds and the JCPOA is restored, new avenues will open for multilateral diplomacy with Iran. These channels won’t necessarily lead to a “better” or “stronger and longer” deal, and the Biden administration won’t be part of every discussion. But leveraging the efforts of partners, allies, and other major powers to meet U.S. interests is a better way to advance national security through diplomacy and create an environment where reaching future deals can become more conceivable.

The opinions expressed above represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The aim of the ELN is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s ability to meet the pressing challenges of our time in foreign policy, defense and security.

Image: Iranian Press

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