Biden and the Iran nuke deal

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during Labor Day at a workers' meeting, April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader's Website /HO)
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during Labor Day at a workers' meeting, April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader's Website /HO)

0ne of the pressing issues that Joe Biden will face when he becomes president is what to do about the Iran nuke deal. (JCPOA) At one of the early debates, the many people who were attempting to win the Democratic nomination for president were asked whether, if elected, they would re-enter the JCPOA, a deal into which the United States had entered under Barack Obama.  All of the candidates, including Biden, raised their hands indicating that they would. Since then, Trump has been imposing ever-more severe sanctions on Iran.

Over a year after the debate referenced above, Biden will become President. Once he is sworn in, he will actually have to deal with the problem. A lot has changed in a year, as has Biden’s position. He has now made re-entering the deal conditional on Iran agreeing to re-negotiate the deal.

That raises a number of issues. First, why would Iran agree to renegotiate the deal in the first place? There are a number of reasons to question whether it would. Iran has long maintained that the United States (along with Israel) is “the great Satan”. Iran correctly views the United States as a country, not a succession of presidents. The United States has been “the great Satan” ever since Jimmy Carter was president. When Trump pulled out of the nuke deal, Iran did not blame Trump; it blamed the United States, claiming that it knew better than to trust the United States. Biden will have a tough time getting Iran to believe anything he says.

Second, there is a huge difference between supporting entering into the original Iran nuke deal, which was largely a partisan issue in the United States, and re-entering it. The original Iran nuke deal gave Iran huge immediate rewards, including the release of Billions of dollars in cash. That money, one of the key motives for Iran to enter into the original deal, was paid long ago and is gone as an incentive.

The second major inducement for Iran to enter the deal was relief from sanctions. While Trump has reimposed American sanctions, the truth is that even before Trump pulled out of the Iran nuke deal, the amount of European investment in Iran had been very disappointing to Iran. The result is that the removal of Trump’s sanctions is much less of an incentive for Iran to modify its behavior than were the removal of the original sanctions. Moreover, Iran and China  have negotiated  an enormous deal under which over 25 years, China will pay Iran $400 Billion in addition to other incentives. While Iran has approved the deal, so far, China has not. It may not do so.

Another incentive for Iran to enter into the original deal was to require that the United Nations Security Council agree to loosen the restrictions on Iran’s ability to build a new generation of missiles. It did so. Iran has taken full advantage of that change, developing a new generation of missiles. These missiles can reach Israel and land within a few meters of the intended target

The original deal also gave Iran the right to develop a new generation of centrifuges, the key to enriching uranium quickly. Iran has taken advantage of that loophole and developed a new generation of centrifuges.   Ever since the United States pulled out of the Iran nuke deal, Iran has been enriching uranium in amounts in excess of the amount permitted under the deal. The U.N.’s IAEA reports  that Iran has  enrich ed uranium to a purity of up to 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the JCPOA

According to reports, Iran now has enough such uranium to be able to build a nuclear bomb in a matter of months. Biden has said that one of the conditions of modifying the Iran deal would be Iran’s full compliance with the original deal. That would require Iran to greatly reduce the amount of enriched uranium it already has. That seems like wishful thinking.

Fourth, Biden has talked about requiring Iran to delay the rate at which it will build nuclear weapons. If it already has or is close to having nuclear weapons, why  would it do so? Nothing is more important to Iran than the destruction of Israel. Though Israel will not admit that it has nuclear weapons, the whole world believes that it has them. Up to now Israel’s huge military advantage over Iran has been that it has nuclear weapons and Iran does not. It is hard to imagine Iran continuing to allow Israel to maintain that advantage.

The Trump theory of imposing sanctions on Iran is that it will bring Iran to the negotiating table. That hasn’t worked so far, and there is no reason to believe that it will work in the future. Becoming a nuclear military power seems much more important to Iran than the burden the American sanctions impose on Iran’s economy.

Biden’s original position on renegotiating the Iran nuke deal was a campaign promise. It served to placate the Democrats who supported the original Iran deal while presenting Biden as a candidate who was tough enough to deal with Iran. There is often a huge difference between a campaign promise and reality. Once he is president, Biden will have to deal with reality. In this case, the reality is that Iran has little incentive to modify the deal.

About the Author
After spending an adulthood as a lawyer in Colorado where much of my practice involved the public interest, I made aliyah. As I child I was told by my mother, a German, Jewish refugee, that Israel was a place for her and her child. When I came here, I understood what she meant. Though I am retired now, I have continued my interest in activism and the world in which I find myself.
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