Joe Biden wants a big foreign policy win and thinks he can get it by resuming relations with Iran and rejoining the 2015 nuclear agreement. To that end, his administration is considering some baby steps in the interim — partly to judge Iran’s reaction and see if they reciprocate and also to keep their intent from becoming a domestic controversy.
Some of those baby steps under consideration include lifting some of the sanctions on Iran while in return, Iran would stop or slow down its drive to create highly enriched uranium. By reestablishing some of the parameters of the deal on both sides, Biden hopes to entice Iran back to the negotiating table.
“(They) are having a real think,” said one source familiar with the U.S. review, saying ideas under consideration include a straight return to the 2015 nuclear deal and what he called “less for less” as an interim step.
Another source said if the Biden administration concluded it would take too long to negotiate a full return to the deal, it could adopt a more modest approach.
“Should (they) at least try to give Iran some sanctions relief and get Iran to agree to pause and maybe roll back some of its nuclear (steps)?” said this source.
Tehran has broken the deal’s key provisions, enriching uranium to 20% — above a 3.67% cap but below the 90% needed for weapons — expanding its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and using advanced centrifuges that makes the process for producing bombs much faster.
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The two sides seem far apart.
In what may be posturing by both sides, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday said Tehran’s “final and irreversible” decision was to return to compliance only if Washington lifts sanctions, while Biden said he would not lift sanctions just to get Iran back to the table.
Biden wouldn’t dare lift the sanctions unilaterally, would he?
Republicans are likely to criticize the Democrat Biden if he offers Iran any sanctions relief without their full return to the agreement, arguing this would squander leverage that Trump built up with the scores of sanctions imposed since 2018.
“The Biden admin has to recognize the realities of 2021, not 2015. That means no upfront sanctions relief for a regime that’s only expanded its dangerous behavior,” Trump’s former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
The Biden administration could still take some steps before lifting sanctions that would show our friendly intentions. The U.S. has been blocking Tehran from using the International Monetary Fund to access humanitarian relief, or perhaps allowing Iran to gain access to EU credit.
Iran will hold presidential elections in June, meaning that Biden is going to have to hurry. A new Iranian leader may just say to hell with it and kick the UN inspectors out and go full bore on producing a weapon. It also means that Biden may be far more willing to appease the Iranians by making unilateral moves to get a cheap foreign policy triumph.
Biden gains nothing by being tough on the Iranians. But he earns the world’s goodwill if he ends up signing another meaningless nuclear agreement.