August 16, 2021 | Washington Examiner

How Biden can escape the self-created nuclear impasse

August 16, 2021 | Washington Examiner

How Biden can escape the self-created nuclear impasse

Despite the Biden administration’s efforts to finalize an agreement before the inauguration of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s new president, Tehran has refused to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The clerical regime’s intransigence and Washington’s failure to exploit its economic leverage over Tehran have created an impasse in the talks, with Tehran placing them on hold in an apparent effort to extract more concessions from Washington.

Raisi’s inauguration comes as Tehran continues to expand its atomic program without the proper supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency while indicating that it is unsatisfied with the direction of the negotiations. The White House’s failure to enforce sanctions fully, particularly oil sanctions , has given Tehran much-needed financial oxygen. The regime in Tehran is using these developments as leverage to put pressure on Washington for further concessions. Thus, the talks remain at an impasse created by U.S. policymakers.

Iran also has made significant progress in expanding its nuclear program . The clerical regime likely expects Washington to make concessions beyond its JCPOA commitments. Unless President Joe Biden changes course, Washington’s only path to a deal is to concede even more. It is not too late, however, for Washington to restore leverage over Tehran. Here are four steps the Biden administration can take to gain the upper hand.

First, Biden should replace Rob Malley, the lead American negotiator in Vienna, with someone ready to be tough on Tehran. In recent months, in his eagerness to revive the JCPOA, Malley has reportedly agreed to lift nearly all U.S. sanctions on Iran, including non-nuclear sanctions. Tehran most likely sees Malley himself as the architect of this policy. Tehran’s perception of Washington’s weakness will not change as long as Malley and his team are in place.

Second, Washington should emphasize the maximum pressure campaign initiated by the Trump administration. It should enforce existing sanctions zealously and comprehensively, particularly on oil and petrochemical products. It should designate the remaining key entities in Iran’s economy, such as the automobile companies Iran Khodro and Saipa, which produce more than 90% of cars in Iran, as well as the Tehran Stock Exchange . The Biden administration should also increase political pressure on Tehran by sanctioning Raisi’s Cabinet members, thereby sending a message that the international community should shun the Islamic Republic so long as it refuses to change its behavior.

Third, Washington should initiate the process of sending Iran’s nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council for its violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Islamist regime in Iran has failed to declare multiple nuclear sites and refused to answer the IAEA’s questions about them. Europeans resisted the Trump administration’s efforts to initiate the snapback process. Biden should see if his multilateral approach to foreign policy will offer Washington a better chance of persuading Europe to act.

Fourth, Washington should forcefully push back against Tehran’s aggression in the region. For example, Washington should target the leadership of Iran-backed Shiite militias, which have continuously fired rockets on U.S. positions in Iraq.

The Trump administration made a big mistake when it failed to turn its 2020 action against Ghassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al Muhandis into a larger campaign of disrupting the Tehran-backed terrorist network in the region. In response to the Islamic Republic’s recent disruption of maritime trade in the Persian Gulf, Washington should use kinetic actions against the IRGC’s naval assets, including vessels, ports, drones, and missiles launch centers. The goal should be to make Tehran understand that the United States is ready to escalate tensions, and it is Tehran that will lose unless it changes its behavior.

To be sure, the U.S. should refrain from reviving the fatally flawed JCPOA, which would provide Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for limited and temporary nuclear restrictions. However, those who favor reviving the deal should understand that salvaging it requires America to show that it is still capable of severely hurting the clerical regime. The U.S. should deliver this pain before negotiations resume. If it fails to act, the Biden administration will bring home a deal far worse than President Barack Obama’s.

Saeed Ghasseminejad (@SGhasseminejad ) is a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.

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