April 19, 2021 | Newsweek

The Biden Administration’s Time for Choosing On Iran

April 19, 2021 | Newsweek

The Biden Administration’s Time for Choosing On Iran

Vienna is bustling with another round of diplomacy on the Iran nuclear file. Unlike the direct talks that resulted in the flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), this time the American and Iranian sides are not engaging directly.

No matter the format, the end result is hard to escape: another bad deal. A diplomatic collapse is coming, based on a familiar but wrongheaded negotiating approach by American diplomats.

This coming collapse is not hard to understand. The Biden administration is imploring the Islamic Republic of Iran to return to compliance with the JCPOA—and the regime’s talented negotiating team is playing hard to get. The talks revolve primarily around what the West should pay the world’s most prolific state sponsor of terrorism for the privilege of re-entering a faulty nuclear agreement that in 2015 granted Iran everything it wanted—namely, a patient pathway to atomic weapons and massive economic relief.

Nuclear diplomacy is fine, but it must be shaped by American leverage. That leverage is strong right now, with Iran’s accessible foreign exchange reserves down from over $120 billion in 2018 to just $4 billion. The Iranian government is running on fumes and facing an economic crisis. To make matters worse for the clerical regime, the main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz was reportedly set back by around nine months because of an explosion earlier this month. Its nuclear weaponization ambitions were also delayed significantly by the assassination last November of the longtime head of its military-nuclear program, Mohsen Fahkrizadeh. Finally, the regime is still struggling to regain its footing regionally after the Trump administration in January 2020 took out the Islamic Republic’s most talented battlefield commander, Qassem Suleimani.

All of this is leverage for Washington. And that leverage can be further enhanced by building a credible military threat to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities if the mullahs move to a bomb.

The Biden team says it seeks a “longer, stronger, broader” deal. But this is not possible unless the White House sets forth a new Iran policy that is not held hostage by the JCPOA. A rapid return to the old agreement—or even worse, an incremental return—cedes crucial leverage to Tehran. Such an approach gives the regime zero incentive to negotiate another deal.

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Issues:

International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear