Joe Biden campaigned on a platform that included a return to the Iran deal and upon entering office, his administration began negotiating with Iran to reinstate the deal. As negotiations proceed, the concern is rising that fulfilling this promise is forcing the US negotiators to pay far too high a price.
What is at stake: an existential threat
Many, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, perceive a possible Iranian nuclear weapons program as an existential threat to Israel. This was expressed by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on Friday, who said:
“Iran aspires to acquire nuclear weapons and continues to develop long-range missiles. These will pose a significant threat to Israel and its neighbors. Israel is determined to defend itself against any attempt to harm its sovereignty and citizens. We will do whatever it takes to prevent this extremist and anti-Semitic regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
Last week, a group of more than 2,000 former high-ranking Israeli military, law enforcement, and intelligence community officials sent a letter under the auspices of Israel’s Defense & Security Forum, or Habithonistim, to the Biden administration expressing concern about a return to the deal, claiming it threatens regional stability and peace.
“We are troubled that the Biden administration and a handful of European countries are promoting a return to the Iran deal while disregarding the concerns of those closest to Iran, most vulnerable to Iran, and most knowledgeable about Iran,” the officials write in a letter obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon. “The Iranian regime explicitly and publicly seeks the destruction of our country and the toppling of governments of the Arab countries with whom we have made peace. Preventing Iran from obtaining the capability to build deliverable nuclear weapons and confronting the regime’s malign activities are essential to preventing catastrophe.”
“Considering the regime’s record of repeatedly breaking its nuclear promises … any new agreement must include comprehensive anytime-anywhere inspections, including of military facilities,” the Israeli security officials write. They also stated that a new agreement must include restrictions on Iran’s missile program which has been testing nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“Complete folding of America”
On Sunday, Israel Hayom reported on the negotiations between the Biden administration and Iran in Vienna, describing them as a “complete folding of America” The article reported that a signed agreement, identical to the original, was imminent. Iran has violated the agreement multiple times and the new agreement stipulates that there will be no penalties for these violations, many of which are still in place and technically difficult to reverse or remove.
Is there a road back? Is there a way forward?
Last week, Iran announced that it began enriching uranium to 60%. There is no peaceful use of uranium that requires that level of enrichment. Uranium can be used to power most nuclear reactors when refined to 5%. Above 20%, uranium is considered highly enriched and has far fewer civilian applications. At roughly 90% enrichment, uranium is considered weapons-grade and can be used for a nuclear bomb. However the Iranian government assured the US that this was only in order to show its technical capacity after a sabotage attack at the Natanz nuclear plant, and the move is quickly reversible if the US lifts sanctions.
But even if a new agreement is reached, the Biden administration still faces legal obstacles. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) requires the president to present Congress with an explanation of how the deal serves national security interests. If the president fails to do so, Congress has the authority to fast-track legislation to reimpose sanctions. The president must show that:
- Iran is fully implementing the agreement.
- Iran has not committed a material breach of the agreement.
- Iran has not taken any action that could significantly advance its nuclear weapons program.
According to media accounts, the current negotiations call for a suspension of sanctions and the Biden administration has also agreed in principle to compensate Iran for the economic damage caused to them by the sanctions Trump reinstated. Opponents of lifting sanctions argue that crippling the economy has effectively hampered Iran’s nuclear program more than an agreement that does not include on-demand inspections.
Republicans have expressed concern that the president will claim that INARA was intended for the original JCPOA and does not apply to a new agreement.
It may also be difficult due to continue implementing sanctions due to interference from other countries. One of the sanctions bans the sale of Iranian oil. It was reported last week that Russia, Iran, and Syria have reached an agreement by which Russian warships will escort Iranian oil tankers to Syria.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, was brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry at the behest of President Barack Obama. Signed in July 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany) together with the European Union, the JCPOA was touted as the political means to delay Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, reinstating sanctions intended to force Iran to dramatically alter its policies while limiting its regional expansionist policies and sponsorship of terrorism. EU countries as well as China, Russia, and the United Kingdom remained in the Iran deal.