What would Biden rejoining the Iran nuke deal mean? - analysis

In one direction, it sounds like Biden will offer Iran a return to the May 2018 status quo as long as Tehran promises to engage in negotiations to add to the 2015 nuclear deal.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures after disembarking from a plane upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 8, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures after disembarking from a plane upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 8, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
On Monday night, Tony Blinken, a key foreign affairs advisor for presumptive US Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden, gave the most detailed discussion yet of how the candidate would handle the Iran nuclear standoff if elected.
Blinken said that Biden would seek a new and improved deal with Iran.
Yet, despite the greater detail, the advisor left key unanswered questions.
He said that, “Iran would have to come back into full compliance with its obligations under the existing agreement. If it did that, then a Biden administration would come back into compliance as well – but we would use that as a platform to build a longer and longer agreement.”
Blinken’s statement can be parsed in two critically different directions.
In one direction, it sounds like Biden will offer Iran a return to the May 2018 status quo as long as Tehran promises to engage in negotiations to add to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Israel would obviously significantly object to such an approach, as it would squander any leverage over Iran obtained by the “maximum pressure” campaign in exchange for a mere promise from the Islamic Republic to talk.
The other way to read Biden’s intentions is that he would make some kind of unspecified deal in principle with Iran to return to the status quo in terms of compliance and removing sanctions, as part of a simultaneous negotiation about changes to the deal.
This is a critical difference.
If Biden is willing to keep the maximum pressure sanctions on Iran until new conditions are agreed to, he might have a chance.
But even if Biden takes this second approach, it is not clear why he believes he would achieve a better deal than either the Obama or Trump administrations did.
Blinken said that a Biden administration would restore trust with its EU allies so that France, Germany and England would help Washington get Tehran to agree to a better deal.
Maybe this would work, as Trump certainly has frayed alliances with the EU countries. But before Trump pulled the US out of the Iran deal in May 2018, he did engage in several months of negotiations with the EU, trying to get them on board with pressing the ayatollahs into filling the deal’s holes.
The EU-3 were willing to support the US position on pressing Iran to reduce its adventurism in the region, stop ballistic missile testing and allow wider and faster IAEA inspections. But it was unclear that they would be willing to snap back sanctions if Tehran said “no.”
More importantly, the EU-3 were unwilling to take an uncompromising stand with Iran that it must extend the nuclear deal’s limits beyond the 2023, 2025 and 2030 expiration dates. Without extending the deal, all that these countries could do if Tehran tried to break out to a nuclear weapon would be to scold it, just as they did when it did ballistic missile tests that violated toothless-UN resolutions.
It is unclear that the EU countries would be any more willing under Biden to stare down Iran on the nuclear limits expiring.
Also, the real issue has never actually been the EU, but China and Russia. As long as they are fine with the nuclear deal’s limits expiring – and they can make a ton of money if the limits expire – the Islamic Republic could likely resist even combined US-EU pressure.
As Blinken describes the Biden strategy, Iran might be coaxed into giving away its new uranium stock from the previous year, but there are still no answers about stopping it from getting a nuclear weapon once the deal expires.
In the meantime, the Iran nuclear standoff is likely to remain broadly frozen – until Iran sees who it will be dealing with after the November presidential election.