It is unlikely that Washington will rejoin the JCPAO Agreement outright without asking the Iranians for something in return.
The Trump administration’s four chaotic years have come to an end. A new day is dawning in Washington, with not only the hope for change in the way of governing, but also radical change from Donald Trump’s agenda. While Trump spent most of his term focused on undoing what Barack Obama built, Joe Biden, the president-elect, will quickly undo what Trump did to revert to the previous situation.
Thus, he promised to have the United States rejoin the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate Agreement and to repeal the ban preventing citizens of some Muslim countries from entering the United States. These measures will be implemented by executive order from the very first day of his presidency, starting after the inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20, 2021.
The return of the United States as part of the nuclear deal with Iran, however, is far from being reconsidered, at least in the immediate future. This well-known agreement, commonly called the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), came into force in January 2016; the United States pulled out in May 2018. The flagship achievement of the Obama administration, this agreement was based on the bet that in exchange for allowing Iran to rejoin the international financial system, Tehran would commit to toning down its interventionist policy in the Middle East, in addition to submitting its nuclear industry to international scrutiny.
We will never know if this gamble would have worked because Trump pulled Washington out of this accord and pushed Iran, through its policy of maximum pressure, toward an unprecedented economic recession.
Something in Return
Admittedly, Biden had declared during the campaign that he wished to see the United States rejoin this agreement, which Trump had previously called “the worst deal ever” signed by the United States. Yet it is unlikely that Washington will rejoin this agreement outright without asking the Iranians for something in return.
The Iranian issue is the most sensitive topic for Israel and cannot be tackled separately from the Israeli position. That’s the mistake Obama made….
Indeed, even if he wanted it, after four years of Trumpism, the political landscape of America in 2020 is different from what it was in 2016. Democrats will most likely not have a majority in the Senate (after two upcoming state elections in Georgia are held in January) and they will have to deal with a Republican Party that is profoundly marked by the outgoing president, who won more votes in 2020 than in 2016.
In the same way that it is unlikely that Biden will revisit the transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or the recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights by Israel, it is unrealistic to consider he might rejoin the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015 in its original form. The question of Israel’s security is a “bipartisan” issue within Congress, as the Israeli prime minister recalled in his message of congratulations to the Democratic president-elect, remembering his 40 years of friendship with “Joe.”
Actually, the Iranian issue is the most sensitive topic for Israel and cannot be tackled separately from the Israeli position. That’s the mistake Obama made, which resulted in the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal at Trump’s initiative. Biden won’t be making the same mistake. Very tellingly, indeed, the Israeli minister in charge of “settlement affairs” has already announced that the Jewish state would be “forced to act” against Tehran in the event of new negotiations with Iran if Biden were elected.
Biden will not fail to demand something in return, the end of Iran’s interventionism in the Middle East and a halt to its ballistic missile program….
In Tehran, it isn’t even certain that there is any appetite for a return to the status quo. Having lived through it, Iranians now understand that the nuclear agreement is more of a mirage than anything else. Indeed, of the hundreds of billions in foreign investments that had been announced when the agreement was signed, Iran only received a tiny fraction due to non-nuclear sanctions still imposed by the U.S. to penalize Iran for its alleged support of terrorism or for human rights considerations.
Little appetite then, all the more so as Biden will not fail to demand something in return, the end of Iran’s interventionism in the Middle East and a halt to its ballistic missile program — both unacceptable demands for Iran. The leader, Ali Khamenei, even prevented Hassan Rohani’s outgoing administration from starting any sort of negotiation with the newly elected administration. Indeed, he doesn’t want Rohani to enjoy any benefit from a dialogue with the Americans, preferring to see the next, surely conservative Iranian administration take all the credit, if any, for this openness.
Similarly, the world will see a return to multilateralism in international relations with the new Democratic occupant of the White House, which means that Europe will no longer oppose, but will align itself with the American position, leading to the isolation of Iran in the event of a conflict with Washington.
Thus, it is very likely that uncertainty will persist regarding the return of Iran to the community of nations.
Ardavan Amir-Aslani is a lawyer and essayist.