Settling Iranian case will require a lot of skill from Biden

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Ximena Sampson (go to author's page)

Among the priorities that President Biden will have to tackle, the Iranian dossier ranks high. During the campaign, he vowed to return to the 2015 international agreement that was supposed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This agreement, signed by Barack Obama when Joe Biden was vice-president, was abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018.

I will offer Tehran a credible path to diplomacy. If Iran resumes strict adherence to the nuclear deal, the United States will join the deal by taking it as a starting point for follow-up negotiations. Together with our allies, we will work to strengthen and expand the provisions of the nuclear deal, while also addressing other areas of concern., he argued in an opinion piece published on the CNN site this fall.

I am ready to go the diplomatic route if Iran takes steps to show that it is ready as well.

Joe Biden, President of the United States

1. Should we go back to the 2015 agreement or would it be better to start over?

The Common Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, to use the acronym) is the result of long years of hard work and negotiations between Iran and the Group of Six (China, United States, France, Great Britain, Russia and Germany). Iran had pledged to reduce its nuclear capacities and to accept the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency for ten years, in exchange for a gradual easing of the economic sanctions taken against it by the international community. .

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump strongly decried the agreement (the worst deal in the world, he said) and argued that it allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium. In May 2018, he withdrew the United States and subsequently reimposed sanctions on Tehran. Its strategy of maximum pressure aimed to force the Iranians to make greater concessions.

People are burning American flags.

Hundreds of Iranians reacted strongly to President Trump's announcement by burning flags and chanting anti-American slogans during an impromptu protest outside the former United States Embassy in Tehran.

Photo: Getty Images / Atta Kenare

Iran had however kept its commitments, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), responsible for monitoring the technical aspect of the agreement. The US government believed it did too, having certified it on several occasions.

In particular, the IAEA has testified that Tehran has not enriched uranium to prohibited levels or built up illegal stocks of low enriched uranium or heavy water.

What bothered Washington above all were Iran's destabilizing activities in the Middle East. We can think of Iran's support for Hezbollah, the Assad government in Syria or the Houthis in Yemen. All issues in which Tehran opposes the United States and its regional allies.

But the Iranians' regional ambitions, like the development of ballistic missiles (which is of great concern to Israel), are not part of what has been negotiated under the JCPOA, which only frames Iran's nuclear activities.

Aerial view of the wreckage of the Ukrainian plane after its crash in Iran.

On January 8, 2020, two Iranian military missiles struck a Ukraine International Airlines plane killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians.

Photo: Associated Press / Ebrahim Noroozi

This is why reverting to the deal as it was negotiated is not an option, believes Richard Goldberg, senior researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and former adviser for Iran in the Trump administration.

<q data-attributes = "{" lang ": {" value ":" fr "," label ":" Français "}," value ": {" html ":" There are several poles of action, supports Mr.Goldberg. There is the nuclear threat, the missile threat, the terrorist threat and the question of human rights. These issues need to be tackled holistically, because if you give sanctions relief just for one of them, you'll end up giving Iran everything it needs. "," Text ":" There are several poles of action, argues Goldberg. There is the nuclear threat, the missile threat, the terrorist threat and the question of human rights. These issues need to be tackled holistically, because if you give sanctions relief just for one of them, you'll end up giving Iran everything it needs. "}}" Lang = " Fr”>There are several poles of action, argues Mr. Goldberg. There is the nuclear threat, the missile threat, the terrorist threat and the question of human rights. These issues need to be addressed holistically, because if you give sanctions relief just for one of them, you will end up giving Iran everything it needs.

We cannot allow Iran to obtain premature sanctions relief until it responds to all of the threats we have defined.

Richard Goldberg, Senior Researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

Mr. Goldberg says the Democratic base is pushing for a return to the deal, because it is a legacy of the Obama era and is a vehicle for opposition to Donald Trump. But what he heard from Team Biden reassures him that there won't be a rushed return to the JCPOA, but that the new administration will take the time to put in place. something more creative, rather than an old and expiring deal, which does not give the United States room to maneuver.

Politicians gathered around a table.

In June 2015, US Secretary of State John Kerry and other members of the Obama administration held a heated discussion in Vienna with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his delegation to come to an agreement before the end of the deadline.

Photo: Getty Images / Carlos Barria

We must see this agreement, despite its flaws, as a starting point, believes for his part Clément Therme, researcher at Sciences Po Paris.

<q data-attributes = "{" lang ": {" value ":" fr "," label ":" Français "}," value ": {" html ":" On the American side, there are two major flaws to the agreement: the issue of ballistic missiles and that of regional policy, because their regional allies, that is to say the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel, have protested that they were not associated with this agreement in 2015. "," Text ":" On the American side, there are two major flaws in the agreement: the issue of ballistic missiles and that of regional policy, because their regional allies, that is to say the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel have protested that they were not associated with this agreement in 2015. "}}" lang = "en”>On the American side, there are two major flaws in the agreement: the issue of ballistic missiles and that of regional policy, because their regional allies, i.e. the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel, protested that they were not associated with this agreement in 2015.

For the Iranians, the deal was disappointing as only the sanctions related to the nuclear program were lifted (and not all the sanctions, as the people believed). Moreover, when the Americans unexpectedly pulled out, reimposing sanctions, there were no consequences. There was a mechanism in case Iran cheated, but there was no mechanism that provided for sanctions against the United States. (if the deal is broken), adds Therme.

It is more realistic, going forward, to consider a partial and short-term agreement that would include a reduction in Iran's nuclear capacities against a partial lifting of sanctions on humanitarian grounds, due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

Clément Therme, researcher at Sciences Po Paris

This would be, according to the researcher, a way to restore confidence, to be able to gradually return to a healthier negotiating basis.

2. The strategy of maximum pressure can it work?

The US president signed a presidential order to start reinstating US sanctions related to the Iranian regime's nuclear program.

Donald Trump signed a presidential order in 2018 to begin restoring US sanctions linked to the Iranian regime's nuclear program.

Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst

The question is to know what this strategy, put forward by Donald Trump, claimed to achieve, underlines Chen Zak Kane, director of the program of non-proliferation in the Middle East at the Middlebury Institute of international studies, in Monterey. , in California.

If the idea was that Iran would change and become practically a liberal Western state, that obviously didn't happen, she says. In this sense, the maximum pressure failed. Moreover, the country did not collapse either.

There are people who believe in sanctions as well as military strikes and who still believe that maximum pressure could work if given more time. But what is the more sustainable long-term strategy? I think it is well established that military action can be effective, but in the very, very short term, when its consequences can be extremely harmful.

Chen Zak Kane, director of the Middle East Non-Proliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, Monterey, Calif.

This is also the opinion of Clément Therme, who maintains that the policy pursued by Donald Trump, in addition to being dangerous, has undermined the credibility of the United States and therefore its negotiating capacity.

Intellectually, the regime change is appealing, but it is unrealistic, the researcher believes. <q data-attributes = "{" lang ": {" value ":" fr "," label ":" Français "}," value ": {" html ":" The tools used, that is say the sanctions, produced the opposite effect: the impoverishment of the country, the end of the middle class and the accelerated nuclearization of Iran. "," text ":" The tools used, that is to say the sanctions, produced the opposite effect: the impoverishment of the country, the end of the middle class and the accelerated nuclearization of Iran. "}}" lang = "en”>The tools used, that is to say the sanctions, produced the opposite effect: the impoverishment of the country, the end of the middle class and the accelerated nuclearization of Iran.

History has shown recently that more results are obtained through compromise. But only in the nuclear context, the ambition to go beyond would be an illusion on the part of the Biden administration.

Clément Therme, researcher at Sciences Po Paris
Hassan Rouhani, seated near an Iranian flag.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is in office until June 18.

Photo: Getty Images / AFP / ALEXEY DRUZHININ

For sanctions advocates, however, the maximum pressure strategy is the right one, as it inflicted heavy economic losses on the regime, which had to cut its defense budget and cut subsidies to various regional militias. . He is now in an untenable situation and therefore more ready to make concessions.

Time is on the side of the United States, Richard Goldberg believes, as long as the Iranians believe that a credible military threat, American or Israeli strikes, is still on the agenda if they try to speed up their race to the bomb.

The Biden administration is inheriting enormous lobbying power at a time when the Iranian regime is strapped for cash and increasingly desperate for sanctions relief, he argues. It's an opportunity.

3. What is the Iranian strategy?

The sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy. They drove out foreign investors and plunged the country into a deep recession. In 2019, inflation was 41.2%, GDP fell 9.5%, unemployment exceeded 20%, and the national currency, the rial, lost two-thirds of its value. Oil exports, a major inflow of foreign currency for the country, are in free fall.

In response to what it sees as a betrayal of the agreement on the part of the Americans, Tehran has announced that it has resumed its uranium enrichment activities, and thus tries to put pressure on the other signatory states of the agreement (European countries, Russia and China) to help it circumvent sanctions and export its oil.

Centrifuges in a factory.

Iran has initiated a process to produce 20% enriched uranium at the Fordo underground plant, its main step out of the 2015 international agreement.

Photo: The Canadian Press / AP / IAEA

In early January, as Washington prepared for the inauguration of the new president, the Iranians seized a South Korean tanker in the Persian Gulf and conducted large-scale training operations with hundreds of drones involving several branches. military.

For the Iranian president, the ball is now in the American court. If Washington returns to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, we too will fully respect our commitments under the pact, did he declare.

4. How to re-establish dialogue?

Since it was the Americans who withdrew from the deal, it would be up to them to take the first step, believes Clément Therme. However, it will be complicated for President Biden, since there is a strong anti-Iranian consensus within the American political class, he emphasizes.

There would be steps to be taken on the Iranian side, which could be simultaneous with American steps, such as allowing exports of medical equipment, allowing Iran to repatriate billions of dollars which are placed in accounts abroad. for the sale of oil before the US withdrawal from the agreement and to resume oil exports, notes the researcher.

Iran's nuclear capability must also be recognized, as the Obama administration did, says Therme. One cannot deny Iran's access to nuclear technologies, the question must rather be how one manages its ambitions. For him, this means giving some economic hope to the Iranians while seeking de-escalation.

Iranians in a bazaar in Tehran.

The return of sanctions deprived the Iranians of the economic benefits they expected.

Photo: Associated Press / Ebrahim Noroozi

This is not the opinion of Richard Goldberg, who believes that it is the Iranians who must give in.

At the end of the day, they are the ones who lack the money. They can either watch for the collapse of their regime or negotiate with the Western powers and comply with their demands to behave like a normal nation and have normal relations with them.

We shouldn't offer them to pay them to hang around for a little while, but rather have a clear strategy on how we will use the wiggle room we have inherited to push the regime to respond to the myriad of concerns we have.

Richard Goldberg, Senior Researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

In addition, the Iranian presidential election will take place on June 18 of this year and Chen Zak Kane fears that a conservative, and even more hostile to the United States, candidate will take power.

Richard Goldberg isn't worried about it. Conservatives or reformers, he says, are all the same. The people who make the decisions remain the same, he notes. These are just nuances in a very harsh system.

5. What about the allies?

When President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, the Europeans tried to keep him alive, which was not easy with the secondary sanctions applied by the Americans.

Representatives of the signatories to the Iran nuclear deal are seated around a conference table.

Signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have met several times in an attempt to save it, such as here in Vienna in 2018.

Photo: Getty Images / JOE KLAMAR

European companies that had resumed doing business with Iran had to pack up again. And the credibility of the deal took a hit.

This is why it will be a major effort to rally these partners, some of whom are on the same page, and come to an agreement with them on the way forward, believes Chen Zak Kane. There will be a lot of work to be done to rebuild relations with Europe, Russia and China, and to get other JCPOA members to agree to negotiate further measures., she says.

If the United States can get the support of other members of the JCPOA to negotiate better terms, it will have greater influence over Iran.

Chen Zak Kane, Director of the Middle East Non-Proliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, Monterey

Richard Goldberg also believes that a united front is necessary to oppose Iran.

Over the past four years, many problems have clouded the relationship between the United States and Europe. Iran was just one of them. If these disagreements can be alleviated, if dialogue and goodwill between the United States, Europe and Canada is restored, there is no reason for Iran to divide us, because historically we know that Iran is not an ally. Iran is an enemy; it is a rogue state.

Read also :

  • Biden team shows firmness against China and Iran
  • Extraterritorial militias, key to Iranian power
  • Are international sanctions effective?
  • Trump sanctions will affect Iranians more than regime, expert notes


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