What Factors Do the Iran Nuclear Talks Hinge On?

July 15, 2021 Updated: July 19, 2021

Commentary

Nowadays, an online search for Iran shows a lot of negative news and analysis regarding the Islamic regime’s nuclear ambitions, regional mischief, missile program, and, more recently, its President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, notoriously known as “the butcher” of political prisoners in 1988.

There are many unanswered questions, including how the Biden administration wishes to deal with such a sophisticated and problematic regime. What is President Joe Biden’s road map to resolving this old, intricate crisis? How will Iran’s domestic situations effect its relationship with the West? And is the United States willing to promote democracy in Iran?

I believe there’s an agreement on key points following the latest nuclear talks, but both sides are engaged in tactical maneuvering in order to secure more advantages. I recall the final weeks leading up to the signing of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This status is reflected in the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s latest report to its Parliament, which anticipates that talks on reviving the nuclear deal will be completed at the beginning of the country’s new government.

In a letter attached to the report, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stresses that in the current negotiations conducted by his team, both sides have reached the framework of an agreement. According to Zarif, in addition to lifting an important part of the oil and banking sanctions, more than 1,000 individuals and legal entities, as well as institutions under the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, will be removed from the U.S. sanctions list. The report states that the United States is prepared to delist the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

The United States seeks to expand the deal to cover Iran’s destructive regional policy and missile program. In contrast, the theocracy continues its nuclear extortion policy to have more bargaining chips.

The result of Iran’s sham presidential election has complicated the situation, pushing Iran’s lobbyists in the United States to adopt their arguments. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), an Iranian lobby group in Washington, used to argue that abandoning the JCPOA would result in the isolation of so-called moderates within the regime. They argued that the United States can’t make a deal with hard-liners, while the council recently published a statement urging Biden to remain in nuclear talks.

For a domestically and internationally loathed man like Raisi, there’s desperation to achieve something through the nuclear talks in his first months after taking office. Thus, the supreme leader delays the signing of the deal to gift it to the new president. Raisi aims to present the agreement as his achievement, wishing to improve the collapsed economy to some extent in the short term, especially when the deal has a tremendous psychological impact on the economy.

Aiming to secure political interests, the Biden administration is willing to disregard Raisi’s human rights record and pave the way for signing the deal. Some European governments have tested the water, with Switzerland and Austria having congratulated Raisi. It’s worth noting that the U.S. government has been represented in Iran by Switzerland.

The U.S. foreign policy doctrine is going to be formed based on the China threat. The current U.S. strategy—especially now that it’s leaving Afghanistan—is based on keeping Iran far from Chinese influence. However, the Biden administration naively seeks this goal, ignoring the fact that Iran has already signed a strategic deal with China that’s waiting to be implemented after the United States removes sanctions.

There are two principles in U.S. foreign policy doctrine: security necessities and promotion of democracy. The United States is now putting geostrategic (in the mid-term) considerations ahead of everything else, seeking a non-nuclear Iran and, at the same time, a policy of appeasement, freeing the IRGC’s hands in Afghanistan.

If the United States signs the deal without ending uranium enrichment and including Iran’s regional policy as well as missile program, the deal will be much more flawed than the JCPOA. This is because Tehran has developed its nuclear capacity and is very close to nuclear breakout, enriching uranium up to 60 percent.

On the other hand, if the Islamic regime’s missile program and regional mischief are included, the theocracy will lose all its ideological, political, and practical leverage over its forces and proxies inside and outside of Iran.

Amid the above complications, the theocracy’s domestic war with its people is getting deeper, pushing Khamenei to shrink his loyalists. The process started from the parliamentary elections in March 2020, and the goal is to preserve the system by shrinking those who benefit from the regime. This act was seen when Khomeini, the founder of the regime, died. But a decade later, the international situation coerced Khamenei into allowing reformists to win the presidential election in 1997.

Remember, after the terrorist attack in the Al Khobar building in Saudi Arabia in 1996, there were a lot of discussions in the United States about holding the Iranian regime to account.

Khamenei is more than 82 years old, reportedly with a history of cancer, which challenges his health. The system is trying to do what it did after its founder’s death. All developments indicate that belts are being tightened to ensure the regime’s internal security for Khamenei’s successor. He has formed a team to pave the way and end splits between the regime’s factions by completely kicking out so-called moderates and reformists.

The new President Raisi, the new head of the judiciary, the Parliament speaker, and a likely massive purge within the IRGC are together in harmony until Khamenei’s death. However, no one can hide the competition among these thirsty loyalists.

Khamenei seeks a security guarantee from the United States. Whether the Biden administration can give such a guarantee depends on the Islamic regime’s lobbyists in the White House. Iran’s lobby groups, such as the Quincy Institute and NIAC, advocate that the United States should disregard its democratic principles and give the guarantee to the regime.

No one knows whether the Biden administration recognizes the historical lesson that such a policy of appeasement has emboldened the regime in the past three decades.

The nuclear talks are affected by another crucial factor. The Iranian people have been crying out for democracy and basic freedom over the past 40 years. This is a two-sided problem.

First, there’s the U.S. approach toward the Iranians’ struggle for democracy. Biden should know that making a deal with Raisi means turning his back on U.S. values, such as spreading democracy. Signing such a deal with a butcher can’t protect U.S. national interests, as the people of Iran and an Arab-Israeli alliance will likely challenge the possible agreement.

Second, many cross-party senators have expressed their objections against Biden’s soft approach toward Iran. No one knows what will happen in the November 2022 Senate election or the next presidential election. A Senate controlled by Republicans can block wavering sanctions, or the next president can scrap the new deal.

As the theocracy wobbles, the Biden administration should draw a nuclear red line for the regime and simultaneously delay the signing of the deal for some time. This would pressure the theocracy inside Iran, giving the United States a useful bargaining chip.

Hamid Bahrami is an independent Middle East analyst based in Glasgow, Scotland. He tweets at @HaBahrami

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Hamid Bahrami
Hamid Bahrami
Hamid Bahrami is an independent Middle East analyst based in Glasgow, Scotland. He tweets at @HaBahrami