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A clean return to the Iran nuclear deal should be Biden’s first option

A clean return to the Iran nuclear deal should be Biden’s first option Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist By Eric Brewer | January 11, 2021  Of all the international agreements President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin upon taking office, perhaps none is more controversial than the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Although the deal was containing Iran’s program until Trump withdrew in mid-2018a move that led Iran to ramp up its nuclear activities—some are now arguing that returning to the deal isn’t a good idea or is too difficult given developments over the last four years.

This is unfortunate. Returning to the deal is not only viable but also presents the best chance of preventing an Iranian bomb. It is the best path toward building on the agreement and addressing some of the shortfalls that critics deride. Moreover, with a bit of planning, the Biden team could address several key concerns about the US return.

Arguments against rejoining the deal: Sorting the good from the bad. Some of the arguments and policy prescriptions offered by skeptics of returning to the deal are not realistic and should be dismissed. For example, some favor increasing pressure on Iran until that country’s leaders make more concessions on nuclear and non-nuclear activities. But no amount of pressure alone will cause Iran to abandon its ballistic missile program entirely or cease its support to terrorist groups, militias, and other malign non-state actors. Those policies are central to Iran’s concepts of national security and defense and ending them would require dramatic changes to the region and Iran’s threat perceptions, at a minimum.

The past four years has demonstrated that extreme pressure and unrealistic demands only cause Iran to increase its nuclear program and regional aggression. 

But other critiques of returning to the deal have some merit and deserve consideration. A well-planned attempt at a “clean return”—in which the United States and Iran follow a series of agreed steps that bring them back into compliance to the deal’s original terms—would address many of them.

These objections can be broken down into three categories—strategy, process, and politics. 

Objections to strategy. Some argue that it makes little sense to rejoin the deal because restrictions on Iran have already expired or would expire in the next few years, and that giving Iran significant sanctions relief would yield important leverage that could help secure a follow-on deal.

In fact, rejoining the agreement would put the United States in a stronger position to address both of these concerns. By returning, Washington would immediately cease to be the problematic actor—global attention would shift back toward Iran. This would make it easier for the United States to work with the international community to limit the fallout from the expired conventional arms embargo and to plan for the lifting of restrictions on Iran’s missile program, slated to occur in October 2023. A Biden team would then have the remainder of its first term to make progress toward a new deal (or deals) that addresses Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear activities—long before the most important sunsets kick in. (The limits on enrichment levels and Iran’s stockpile of uranium, which are key to maintaining longer breakout timelines, don’t expire until 2031 and many of the monitoring provisions last even longer).

The United States still has ample incentives it can offer Iran in negotiations for a follow-on deal. These range from further assistance for Iran’s civil nuclear program, to relaxing the US trade embargo, to taking steps to help Iran actually reap the economic benefits of sanctions relief. (Recall that Iranian officials were quite dissatisfied that the removal of sanctions under the deal did not translate into the economic gains they expected or advertised.) And if and when talks expand to include missile and other regional issues, this will likely involve other players in the region that can put additional incentives on the table .

Concerns about process. Another set of concerns focuses on the process of returning to the agreement. Skeptics claim there simply just isn’t enough time. Biden will be inaugurated January 20, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will be out of office less than six months later, likely replaced by a more hardline successor. Potentially further complicating a swift return by both sides, Iran has hinted that it may insist on  US compensation for its withdrawal from the deal; and it will expect Washington to remove sanctions first before dialing back its program.

 True, the United States and Iran would have to act quickly to agree on the process by which both come back into compliance, but there are reasons to believe it might work. Both sides want to get it done. Iranian officials have been fairly consistent that they would be willing to return to compliance if the United States does the same………… 


January 16, 2021 - Posted by | Iran, politics international, USA

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