A key foreign policy goal for the Democratic Party and President Joe Biden is to re-enter the Iran Nuclear Deal in order to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear strike capabilities and to cool tension in the region. This would reverse President Trump’s 2018 decision to leave the deal made under President Obama and halt the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran. As harsh economic sanctions took their toll on the Iranian economy, military aggression in the region escalated.
The past two years have been rocky in the US-Iran relationship. The year 2019 was plagued by military and political aggression towards the United States and the West starting with a string of assaults on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. The Trump administration blamed Iran for these assaults against these vessels that were sailing under the flags of US allies. The US responded by attempting to seize an Iranian oil tanker. In 2020, Iran-backed militia stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad in response to a US airstrike. Following this, the US assassinated Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by drone strike in Baghdad. Later that year, Iran conducted missile strikes on two bases in Iraq where U.S. soldiers were stationed in retaliation for Soleimani’s murder. Trump then announced the US would impose new sanctions on Iran in response to the missile strike.
Now, after several years of a tumultuous relationship with Iran and growing concerns over Israel’s safety, the Biden administration has a unique opportunity to normalize the situation. However, the issue of re-entering a deal with Iran is anything but straightforward and the Biden administration appears to be missing the window to act. In the first weeks of Biden’s presidency, the new administration announced that economic sanctions would not be lifted off Iran until the regime ceases to enrich Uranium. In response, Iran announced that they would not stop enriching Uranium until the economic sanctions were lifted. A total Catch-22.
So why doesn’t President Biden simply re-enter the deal? Well, this takes us back to why Trump and Republicans left the agreement in the first place: the majority of Israel and the Netanyahu administration does not trust the Iran Nuclear deal. In fact, Obama is not seen in a good light by the people of Israel due in part to this agreement. In 2015, Netanyahu broke all Israeli public diplomatic norms when he gave a speech to Congress arguing for the US to vote against the deal without informing then-President Obama ahead of time. Over the last several years, Israeli and US intelligence agencies have revealed evidence of Iran evading inspection of nuclear facilities and hiding Uranium enrichment labs. In addition, the 2015 deal does not cover the development of ballistic missiles which Israel argues to be a fatal flaw. Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Force officials have repeatedly warned the US that a return to the 2015 deal would potentially force Israel’s hand and that all options are on the table.
“A return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, or even if it is a similar accord with several improvements, is bad and wrong from an operational and strategic point of view,” Lieutenant-General Aviv Kohavi said on January 26th, 2021 in an address to Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Another component to this is that Iran has been surprisingly diplomatic to the new Biden administration so far. The rhetoric from the regime and their public diplomatic appearances encouraging negotiation seems to indicate that Iran is hoping to come to the table with Biden. However, this opportunity to strike a new deal with Iran may be fleeting due to escalating tensions between Iran and Israel. It seems that by announcing that US policy towards Iran is not changing for the time being, the administration is missing an enormous opportunity to create peace before it is too late. This would be a significant blunder for the new President and writers at Duke Political Review will continue to keep readers informed as the situation develops.