Aref Bijan's Blog

Is a New Nuclear Deal with Iran feasible in the Biden administration: Requirements and Barriers

June 9, 2021

Perhaps, two events have affected Iran-U.S. relations over the past three years. First, Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018; second, Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election in January 2021 was, in fact, Trump’s defeat. Inside Iran, some politicians agreed with Trump’s continued presidency, while others hoped Biden would win. During his election campaign, the Biden administration called Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal irrational and wrong and promised to return to negotiations with Iran. However, there is disagreement over whether to return to the 2015 agreement or strike a new one.


Source: Reuters

Of course, some political analysts believe that the Biden administration will first offer Iran concessions in the short term without resorting to sanctions, such as concessions in the field of oil and receiving loans from the International Monetary Fund. However, those analysts who positively view the U.S.-Iran talks believe Washington easing sanctions against Tehran by June 2021 is an unrealistic prospect, as there are many technical and legal obstacles facing the Biden administration. The Biden administration has repeatedly stated that the United States will fully comply with the terms of the treaty as soon as Iran returns to the agreement. In this way, European countries, Russia and China insist on the return of the United States to the nuclear deal, while the countries, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia and some Gulf Arab countries, oppose the deal.

In this regard, under a law passed by Iran’s conservative majority in parliament, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be allowed to conduct intrusive inspections even if the U.S. sanctions against Iran remain in place. However, Iran sees the first step as lifting the U.S. sanctions. The Islamic Republic, with the approval of the parliament, has suspended the Additional Protocol to the nuclear agreement. According to a new agreement reached between Iran and the IAEA, however, monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities will continue for another three months.

Besides, there seems to be backchannel diplomacy going on between Iran and the United States as well as with some other countries, such as Qatar, Germany and France. Thomas Countryman, the Obama-era Deputy Secretary of State, believes the current president can lift some sanctions to prove his good faith. However, this seems impossible until Iran takes the first step. While the leaders of both countries want to show that they will not give in to pressure, analysts believe that U.S. actions, such as aid with supplying corona vaccines or providing humanitarian relief, and economic guarantees, including agreeing to Iran’s request for a loan from the International Monetary Fund, have all been done to build trust.

By returning to a participatory approach with its allies in the international community, especially in Europe, Biden seeks to build consensus against Iran. It does not seem to be a significant obstacle in this work either. The silence of the P4 + 1 members and even the European troika’s support for the U.S. resolution proposed to the Board of Governors, the FATF, the military action near the Iraq-Syria border and Biden’s threatening remarks against Tehran indicate a new situation before January this year. The passage of a proposed U.S. resolution at a meeting of the Board of Governors (which was ultimately not adopted) has two possibilities following the military action by the U.S. military against the Iraqi forces allied with Iran on the Syrian soil: first, Biden will use the threat policy to advance his goals. Second, by securing Iran’s case, it seeks to provide an opportunity for further, more drastic action and deterrence.

What is important now to reach a new agreement with Iran is pay attention to some domestic and regional policies and restrictions. On the one hand, there are powerful Zionist and Arab lobbies in the U.S. decision-making structure that influence the course of U.S. foreign policy. In fact, these lobbies are strongly opposed to a nuclear deal with Iran and are pressuring the Biden administration to continue the Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy. France has suggested that Saudi Arabia be involved in a nuclear deal with Iran, which has been opposed by Iran. The Biden administration is also highly sensitive about Iran’s missile program and Tehran’s regional influence in the Middle East and elsewhere, which could be a serious obstacle to a new nuclear deal.

On the other hand, there are obstacles inside Iran to reach a new agreement. First, Hassan Rouhani’s government is trying to reach an agreement with the United States in the last three months of his tenure and is demanding the lifting of all sanctions. Although the final decision will be made by Ayatollah Khamenei as political leader, some fundamentalist politicians seek to postpone talks with the United States until after the June 2021 presidential election in Iran. This shows that the Biden government is also waiting for the next government in Iran and is not willing to reach an agreement with the Rouhani government. This means that the Biden administration is in no hurry to reach a nuclear deal and has been able to contain Iran by using sanctions during the Trump era, while the economic situation in Iran is quite clear. Finally, the Biden administration seeks to deter Iran and prevent potential threats to the United States and its allies.

I would suggest that the U.S. conditions for an agreement with Iran, which include the cessation of the missile program and the reduction of its regional influence in the Middle East, will not be accepted. On the contrary, the U.S. condition of complete sanctions will not be met by the US. An appropriate option for both sides could be to issue a Tehran-Washington Mutual Declaration and Commitment to a Full Return to the Nuclear Deal before negotiating terms and timetables. The European Union could also be at the center of negotiations between Iran and the United States, Russia and China. In addition to membership in the UN Security Council, Russia and China have closer ties with Iran than Western powers, although they also seek to maximize their interests.

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