Biden Interview On Reviving Iran Nuclear Deal: ‘Hard, But Yeah’
In an interview with New York Times published on Wednesday [December 2], United States President-elect Joe Biden reiterated that he would stand by his commitment to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “It’s going to be hard, but yeah,” Biden told Thomas Friedman.
In an op-ed piece published by CNN on September 13, Biden wrote that he would take the US back into the 2015 agreement – from which President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in May 2018 – lifting sanctions as required by the deal if “Iran returns to strict compliance” and as a “starting point for follow-on negotiations.” In the interview with New York Times, Biden indicated the US would consult with allies and partners for follow-on agreements to “tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program.”
After returning to the JCPOA, the US would be entitled to trigger a mechanism in the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to bring back sanctions if Iran violated the JCPOA terms. The Trump administration attempted this trigger mechanism in August, as Iran had expanded its atomic program beyond JCPOA limits, but were opposed by the other signatories.
Iranian news agencies and websites on Wednesday widely reported Biden’s new statement without any comments. Iranian officials are yet to respond. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has portrayed a return to the JCPOA by both Iran and the US as relatively straightforward process that should not be complicated by introducing other factors.
Friedman has previously argued that Biden should keep “that leverage -- all those oil sanctions” (sanctions introduced by Trump) to secure wider Iranian concessions, including over its missile program. In his write-up of the Biden interview Friedman suggested that Biden would like to include Iran's Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in negotiations, which is another idea the widely syndicated columnist has pushed.
“The view of Biden and his national security team is that once the deal is restored by both sides,” Friedman wrote, “there will have to be, in very short order, a round of negotiations to seek to lengthen the duration of the restrictions on Iran’s production of fissile material that could be used to make a bomb − originally 15 years − as well as to address Iran’s malign regional activities, through its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”
Biden’s team was aware of leverage offered by Trump’s oil sanctions, Friedman continued. “But for now, they insist that America’s overwhelming national interest is to get Iran’s nuclear program back under control and fully inspected,” thereby cutting off any route to a nuclear weapon, as was the original rationale of the JCPOA.
Biden in the interview acknowledged concerns about Iran’s “precision missiles and other things that are destabilizing the region” but insisted that the best way to improve regional stability would be to first address Iran’s nuclear program.