November 22, 2021 | New York Post

Iran nuclear talks are restarting, but they’re pointless: Biden needs a bipartisan strategy

November 22, 2021 | New York Post

Iran nuclear talks are restarting, but they’re pointless: Biden needs a bipartisan strategy

President Joe Biden’s Iran policy is failing, and the indirect negotiations restarting in Vienna Nov. 29 won’t yield a win.

Biden assumed that goodwill gestures and proactive concessions would bring Tehran to the table. Instead, Iran is patiently moving toward a nuclear weapon — or at least a turnkey nuclear option — narrowing the president’s decision space.

Out of ideas, Biden should quickly assemble a high-powered, bipartisan team of outside advisers — think Condoleezza Rice and Leon Panetta — to craft a new policy that can unify Washington while Tehran signals it’s preparing to sprint for a bomb.

Iran has produced uranium enriched up to 60 percent purity, a short distance to the 90 percent needed for nuclear weapons. It’s also producing uranium metal, an important step in nuclear-weapon development.

In February, Tehran announced it would no longer adhere to the Additional Protocol, which allows the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct short-notice nuclear-site inspections. It also halted IAEA access to surveillance and other electronic data collected at its declared nuclear sites. Meanwhile, it’s stonewalling IAEA investigations into its undeclared nuclear activities.

In short, Tehran’s actions are not remotely consistent with a peaceful nuclear program. For Biden, the inconvenient truth is Iran has taken its most troubling and aggressive steps after he took office.

An often-overlooked element of good policy-making is evaluation. Is the policy achieving its intended goal? It’s obvious Biden’s Iran policy is not.

That may be the only thing on which people on both sides of the issue agree. The administration’s friends say this is because former President Donald Trump poisoned the well with his hostile rhetoric, relentless sanctions and the targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani. Just keep negotiating, they say, and Tehran will come around.

Those excuses are just an exercise in passing the buck.

When Biden entered office, Iran was hurting from his predecessor’s “maximum-pressure campaign,” yet the White House refused to apply the leverage it inherited. Robert Malley, Biden’s chief negotiator, declared in April that we saw “the result of the maximum-pressure campaign. It has failed.”

What did Biden get in exchange for his good will? Nothing. His team isn’t even allowed in the same room with Iranian negotiators. Tehran received sanctions relief without any commitments.

Now the Islamic Republic wants “more for less”: an arrangement where America provides even greater sanctions relief in exchange for nuclear restrictions far less stringent than in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Diagnosing the problem with Biden’s Iran policy is easy; developing a solution is more difficult.

The IAEA board of governors meeting this week is an important opportunity. The Biden administration should pursue Tehran’s censure for covering up clandestine nuclear work throughout the deal’s existence. It’s resisted in the past, worried that Iran would become less cooperative at the negotiating table, but the talks are moribund, so it’s time Biden signaled that Washington is done waiting. When the board passed a June 2020 censure resolution, Iran (briefly) complied with the IAEA’s requests for information and access.

More important, the president should use the delay Tehran’s stonewalling has created to order a policy review co-led by a Democrat not in his administration and a Republican who wasn’t in the Trump administration. Several candidates come to mind: Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, former defense secretaries, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former CIA Director David Petraeus and former Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

The policy review should be quick, ideally 30 to 60 days, and start with a review of the Islamic Republic’s motivations. Is Tehran increasing its nuclear activities as leverage for sanctions removal and a return to the 2015 nuclear deal? Or does Iran look at North Korea, which tested its first nuclear weapon more than 15 years ago, as an example to follow?

The answers to those questions will determine whether a return to the 2015 nuclear deal or any agreement that provides Tehran much-needed sanctions relief is advisable. If Tehran is only interested in pursuing a financial lifeline for limited nuclear concessions, then the “longer and stronger” deal that Biden initially advocated is not possible. Removing all leverage for an expiring deal — or one that’s even worse — is not in America’s interests.

Some experts will say there’s no time for such a review. But Biden has already spent nine months waiting for Iran to become a cooperative negotiating partner — he can spare 30 to 60 days to get his approach right. If he doesn’t, Tehran will follow Pyongyang’s path to a nuclear weapon.

Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and served as senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense on the National Security Council. Twitter: @NatSecAnthony. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, non-partisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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