Even With the Restart of Negotiations, Trump & the GOP May Still Get Their War With Iran
During the 2020 election, President Joe Biden promised to restart negotiations with Iran in order to rescue the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, Iran Nuclear Deal) and prevent another bloody war in the Middle East. That may not be possible. Former President Donald Trump's irresponsible decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, despite Iranian adherence to the agreement, set off a chain of events that may be difficult to derail. At some point soon, The United States may be forced to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent their development of a warhead. That could easily snowball into all-out war.
Background: In 2015, after years of negotiations, Iran and the Obama administration, along with China, France, Germany, Russia, the European Union, and the UK, signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, Iran Nuclear Deal). In return for sanctions relief, Iran agreed to reduce its stockpile and enrichment of uranium, the number of centrifuges it could operate, and allowed extensive international inspections.
The Conversation: "Beyond addressing the immediate crisis of possible nuclear proliferation, the agreement was intended to act as a trust-building exercise. US leaders believed that by offering an olive branch to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and acting in good faith, they could pave the way for a broader US-Iranian rapprochement. The deal would demonstrate the US could be a reliable partner for future negotiations."
Iran lived up to its promises under the JCPOA and the Obama administration provided the sanctions relief called for in the agreement. Nevertheless, three years later, in 2018, under President Trump, the US unilaterally withdrew from the accord and imposed a new set of harsh economic sanctions. Hawks within the administration and Republicans in the US Senate believed that the sanctions would convince the Iranian people to rise up and overthrow the regime or force the government to make concessions on a broad array of issues beyond its nuclear weapons program.
Most foreign policy experts recognized such hopes were delusional, at best. Many predicted that Trump's betrayal would undermine Iranian moderates and support the arguments of hawks in Tehran that the United States couldn't be trusted and that obtaining a nuclear weapon would be the only way to deter the US and Israel from meddling in its affairs, including its regional rivalry with Saudi Arabia.
The Results of Trump's Decision: Within months, Iran broke through the restraints of the JCPOA and ramped up its nuclear enrichment program. Moreover, Trump's decision to withdraw, despite Iran compliance with the deal, undermined any trust that had been built up during the Obama administration. It's now inching ever closer to a nuclear weapon.
The Conversation: "Feeling betrayed, Iran began escalating tensions in the Middle East – including strikes on Saudi oil processing facilities – and resumed enriching uranium well beyond the levels agreed to in the JCPOA."
CNN: "As Iran's stockpiles grow, the ACA [Arms Control Association] says, its breakout time, or the time it would take to produce enough uranium enriched to weapons-grade for one bomb, decreases. The ACA estimates that Iran's current breakout time is likely about one month, down from 12 months when the JCPOA was fully implemented."
And yesterday, Axios reported that Israel has shared intelligence with the U.S. "suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon."
This week the Biden administration and European allies are meeting with Iranian officials in Vienna hoping to find a way back to the JCPOA, but the obstacles are daunting. Iran's new hardline leader, Ebrahim Raisi wants more favorable terms on the nuclear deal. He maintains the nation’s nuclear program is peaceful [doubtful], and accuses America and Israel of assassinating Iranian scientists and attacking facilities [true]. Raisi wants assurances that the United States will not exit an agreement under a different administration and demands sanction relief before committing to reenter the 2015 agreement. Biden can't legally agree to the first and won't accept the second.
Axios: "Iran's hawkish new nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, wrote in the FT that a deal will only be possible if the U.S. is willing to "pay a price" for Trump's withdrawal, guarantee that it won't be repeated, and make the first move by removing all sanctions imposed since 2015. The Biden administration has said it will not meet those conditions."
Meanwhile in the United States, Republican hawks in Congress reject any deal that doesn't address a ridiculous wish list of demands meant to pacify Saudi Arabia and Israel and neuter Iran. And, yesterday they sought to derail negotiations by threatening to reimpose economic sanctions if they retake Congress in 2022 even if a deal is reached in Vienna. Republicans say they don't want another war in the Middle East, but seeking Iran's total capitulation on nearly every issue important to the regime certainly looks like the way to get one.
President Biden and negotiators in Vienna will try to overcome these obstacles in the coming weeks, but an agreement may be impossible. Both Israel and the United States have been clear that they will never allow a nuclear-armed Iran. It would embolden Tehran's regional ambitions, spark an nuclear arms race, and endanger the flow of oil from the region. General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command made the point last week in an interview with TIME magazine saying, “the diplomats are in the lead on this, but Central Command always has a variety of plans that we could execute, if directed.”
The Biden administration has been able to repair a lot of the damage done to US foreign policy, but Donald Trump and Republican hawks in Congress may still get their long-desired war with Iran.
By: Don Lam & Curated Content