The clock cannot be turned back to 2015

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

The U.S. government has repeatedly insisted that Iran must fulfill its obligations to the UN Security Council first before it considers rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of action (JCPOA). On the other hand, Iran insists that the United States should be the first to do so because it is the primary violator of its UN Security Council obligations. Is it a matter of which side takes the first step?

Why is the United States delaying its return to the 2015 nuclear deal?

Under the Obama administration, the JCPOA meant to be an agreement to calm the region, prevent an arms race, and avoid a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf. President Obama wanted to freeze his differences with Iran and withdraw the U.S. troops in Iraq and the Middle East.

The JCPOA agreement was considered a set of beginning steps for improving peace in the region. The Iranian regime’s drone strikes on the Saudi Aramco refinery, attacks on tankers, numerous attacks on Saudi and UAE interests by the Houthis, the exposure of Iranians’ intensified missile and nuclear programs, and its military presence in Iraq and Syria in the years since it was put into effect, proved that the JCPOA has backfired. “We will continue to deal with Iran’s destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East with the European countries,” Biden said. 

Therefore, the proposal to add missile, regional, and security annexes to the JCPOA, submitted by the Arab states and the European Union, was welcomed by the new U.S. administration and faced a sharp response from Iran.

Challenges Biden is facing regarding Iran

Joe Biden is coming off a challenging presidential election period and a political battle with the Republicans. He seems to be looking to bring America to a state of calm and settling. He is reluctant to look weak against Iran, particularly with the last administration’s approach. Several of the most influential Republican senators, and even several Democrat representatives, consider engagement with Iran as their red line. 

In the current fragile position of Democrats in the Senate, Biden prefers to have the least possible challenge regarding any future agreement with Iran. Furthermore, giving concessions to Iran in the JCPOA requires some approvals from the U.S. Senate, which are not likely to pass. The story becomes more complicated when a bipartisan resolution co-signed by 113 members of the United States House of Representative, calling for a democratic, non-nuclear, and secular Iran, and condemning the regime’s state-sponsored terrorism, was announced on Thursday.

Dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic and its social and economic consequences has become the Biden government’s main challenge and priority. The issue of Iran is not on Biden’s list of top priorities.

Iran sets a February 21 Deadline

The Iranian parliament passed a law called the “Strategic Action Act to Lift Sanctions.” The law requires the Rouhani government to ignore its nuclear commitments, increase the number of centrifuges, continue uranium enrichment, stop implementing the additional protocols, and disallow access to the IAEA inspectors if the United States did not lift all its sanctions against Iran. 

Khamenei also reiterated the same demands and said, “If the European countries want Iran to return to its obligations, the United States must lift all its sanctions against Iran altogether.’ The purpose of the parliament’s resolution and setting a deadline (February 21) is to pressure the United States and the UN Security Council’s signatories that if the sanctions are not lifted, the regime will continue to move towards achieving the atomic bomb. 

That was the purpose of announcing the production of a small amount of metallic uranium, which is primarily used to make the nuclear bomb. The regime deliberately informed the IAEA of the metallic uranium production to provoke a strong reaction from the three European countries. “By what logic does the Islamic Republic have a duty to stop its retaliatory actions?” Zarif wrote on Twitter in response to a statement from the European countries. “What have the three European countries done to fulfill their duties?” (Tasnim News Agency – 991124)

The new geopolitical arrangement

Iran’s economy has been severely weakened, its currency is falling freely, and its foreign exchange earnings have declined. The Rouhani government has acknowledged that 60 million Iranians are below the poverty line. The massive uprisings of 2018 and 2019 were rooted in the intolerable economic situation of the Iranian people.

The Iranian regime claims that it was only during the 2019 uprising that Trump attempted to oust Soleimani. Iran’s regional influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria has been challenged and considered illegitimate. Millions participated in demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon against Iran’s influence in their countries. Iran’s number 2 man, Ghasem Soleimani, was assassinated, thus affecting the regime’s infiltrator in the region. Russia has been pressuring Iran to reduce its influence in Syria. 

All the above factors and many similar ones have provided the European countries with an opportunity to no longer abide by the 2015 geopolitical balance and elevate their demands regarding their concerns with Iran. Thus, the Biden government will not be willing to pressure Iran unless the revival of the JCPOA will address all such matters. They also want to address the European countries’ concerns regarding Iran’s ballistic missile program, which threatens nations in the region, especially Israel. Thus, it will be part of the new possible agreement.

Challenges of the Supreme Leader

The Iranian regime relies on the absolute monarchy of the Supreme Leader. The existence of Iran’s regime is primarily based on the repression of the people in Iran and engaging in creating instability beyond its borders. If any of the above two factors weaken or removed, the regime will face an inevitable collapse. Iran’s nuclear expansion and its ballistic missile program are an integral part of Khamenei’s strategy and his regime. From his point of view, they are not up for a discussion of compromise. 

Khamenei knows that if Iran backs down at all, the United States will “make excuses for something every day. One day for human rights, one day for nuclear weapons, one day for missiles, and one day for regional issues” (Khamenei, February 20). This reality is what he calls “infinite degradation.” The regime’s inability to gain concessions from the U.S. will pave the way for another wave of social unrest, demonstrations and uprisings, and an eventual collapse of Iran’s authoritarian regime. This destiny Khamenei is not willing to acknowledge. For this simple reason, the Iranian regime is relentlessly pushing for the 2015 agreement to be revived. So it is not a question of taking the first step by the United States or Iran. Will the regime surrender to the outcome proposed by the European countries in a new possible 2021 agreement?

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Hamid Enayat

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