Biden is all set to resurrect the US-Iran Nuclear Deal, lifting sanctions being the first step.
The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken has asked the Biden Administration’s envoy, Rob Malley, to set up a negotiating team with divergent views. The task of this team is to find a way to negotiate with Iran in a bid to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal. Blinken who spoke to E3 (UK, France, Germany) Foreign Ministers also discussed the Iran issue. Commenting on the meeting, the UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab said: “The E3 and the US discussed how a united approach could address our shared concerns towards Iran”.
Differences over Conditionalities
US President Joe Biden and Blinken have emphatically stated that the US is open to joining the JCPOA/Iran Nuclear Agreement, but cannot do so until Iran fulfills its commitments related to the JCPOA. Iran on the other hand has repeatedly stated, that it would get back to full compliance once the Biden Administration removed economic sanctions. This has been repeatedly stated not just by Hassan Rouhani, but Javad Zarif as well. More recently, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted: “Iran has fulfilled all its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal, not the United States and the three European countries… If they want Iran to return to its commitments, the United States must lift all sanctions first.”
The decision to engage with Foreign Ministers of E3, and to set up a negotiating team with Iran came days after putting on hold US defense agreements signed with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. These agreements were signed by the Trump Administration. The move came the day after Biden’s announcement that the US would end support to Saudi Arabia in Yemen, which makes it all the more significant. Many observers had predicted that the Biden Administration’s approach to the Middle East would be very different from Trump’s, whose Iran policy was influenced by GCC countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Hurdles in Rejoining JCPOA
While it may not be possible for the US to return to the Iran nuclear deal, Washington is trying to find out ways to ease the economic pressure on Iran. This includes IMF assistance for fighting the coronavirus and also easing out sanctions which have obstructed international pandemic-related assistance from coming into Iran. The initiative will definitely ease tensions as senior Iranian officials had accused the previous administration of sanctions that were highly “obstructing” in nature.
Iran’s economy has taken a major hit, including a major depreciation of the currency, as a result of the sanctions. The Hassan Rouhani government has repeatedly stated that its fight against the coronavirus has been impacted by US sanctions. On the other hand, the Iranian economy is trying to adapt to the challenges, and many Iranian companies have tried to compensate for the exit of international companies by ramping up domestic production.
Watch: Biden’s rejoining of the Iran Nuclear Deal won’t be easy or fast
Apart from US allies who are keen to get the US back on board the JCPOA, there are a host of other concerns. IAEA has raised the red flag with regard to Iran increasing its uranium enrichment in violation of the JCPOA. It would be pertinent to point out that Iran’s Parliament had passed a law, which was also approved by Iran’s Guardian Council watchdog body, that if economic sanctions on Iran were not removed by February 21, 2021, the middle-east country would be compelled to increase its uranium enrichment and will also suspend UN nuclear watchdog inspectors.
Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif in a media interview also pointed to the need for getting back on the JCPOA highlighting both the bill and the fact that elections are months away: ‘Time is running out for the Americans, both because of the parliament bill and the election atmosphere that will follow the Iranian New Year’
US would also keep a note of the fact that Iranian hardliners have become emboldened as a consequence of Trump’s aggressive and hostile stance vis-à-vis the country. As a result, the moderates find themselves in a corner and are eager for the return to the Iran nuclear agreement unconditionally.
The Biden Truce
While it is true that getting back on the JCPOA is not likely to be easy given domestic pressures as well as the geopolitics of the Middle East. For instance, while the US may have announced the withdrawal of its support to Saudi for the Yemen Conflict, President Biden also stated in his address to the US State Department, that the US will protect Saudi Arabia from Iranian threats. Quoting the US President: ‘Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV strikes, and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries. We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people’.
It is clear that the Biden Administration is exploring ways through which Iran’s economic challenges can be eased. This will give room, the much-needed political space to the Hassan Rouhani government, essential for blunting the agenda of hardliners in Iran. The decision by Blinken to set up a negotiating team with Iran as well as the US’ consultations with allies on the Iran issue is an important message to the global community, especially China, that Washington means business.