Ex-CIA, MI6, Israeli officials doubt new Iran deal with Biden in 2021

Partial deal still possible • “It is easier to use force, to destroy, to kill; it is harder to build bridges, build trust and to create an environment where people live in peace with one another."

INSS DIRECTOR-GENERAL and former Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin: ‘The assessment that the Iranians are leaving Syria is a wish.’ (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
INSS DIRECTOR-GENERAL and former Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin: ‘The assessment that the Iranians are leaving Syria is a wish.’
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Top former CIA, MI6, Israeli defense officials, and other key officials are doubtful that there will be a major comprehensive deal between Iran, the incoming Biden administration and global powers in 2021.
Speaking as part of an Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) virtual conference, former Trump national security advisor John Bolton and former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers both explicitly said that if any deal could be struck, it would take more than a year.
Likewise, former top CIA official Norman Roule strongly implied that the negotiating positions of the incoming Biden administration and the Islamic Republic were far apart and that any comprehensive deal would be a drawn-out endeavor.
Similarly, top Israeli Defense Ministry official Zohar Palti said that “the Iranians are not going to compromise about anything… I do not come to 2021 with a lot of expectations.”
Bolton acknowledged that President-elect Joe Biden has said that he would like to negotiate with Iran to rejoin the nuclear deal, but thinks that he will find “the whole region more complex” than his administration might expect.
US President Donald Trump's former US national security advisor also said that if the main dynamic leading into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was US-EU cooperation, then Israeli cooperation with moderate Sunni countries had upended all expectations and past trends.
Supporting this last point, Emirates Policy Center president Dr. Ebtesam al-Ketbi said that the new move should be “regional dialogue for a regional agreement under US and UN auspices” instead of the model of world powers pushing aside regional concerns.
Next, she said that the EU and other global powers could not simply ignore issues like Iran’s ballistic missiles because they might be out of range whereas Gulf countries and Israel could be targeted.
Further, Ketbi said that “Biden will link the US return to a nuclear deal to some conditions to be met by Tehran. Biden wishes to reap the benefits of the Trump [administration] pressure, with a view to forcing Iran to meet some obligations outside of the [2015 JPCOA] nuclear deal.”
“This scenario is opposed by Tehran and its allies,” she said.
ROULE SAID that though there likely would not be a comprehensive deal all that quickly, there could be a smaller, short-term, confidence building interim deal.
The former official of the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that Iran would desperately want to “obtain initial financial relief – perhaps in terms of a COVID payment,” simply to stay afloat until conditions are ripe for a broader deal.
Moreover, he predicted that Iran would only fully “return to the JCPOA if the US will not be able to easily bring back the snapback” sanctions and if they could “ensure that a future Trump administration [in 2024 or later] will not be able to repeat its actions.”
Roule said that there were major differences between how the EU viewed Iran as engaging in “problematic behavior” in a sense of tolerable minor infractions, versus how Israel and moderate Sunni countries, who have been hit by Iranian rockets, viewed Tehran as a grave threat.
In addition, he said that there were other new dynamics surrounding any negotiations – including, according to foreign reports, that the US and Israel have proven that there isn't any individual who "cannot be removed” by the US and Israel’s targeted killing capabilities.
His comments came following the successive killings of Iran’s Quds Force chief, its nuclear program chief and al-Qaeda’s number two who had been living in Iran.
Roule also voiced pessimism about whether there was a global alliance to confront Tehran about its ballistic missile program and its destabilization of the region.
Although the EU and some other countries might voice vague support for these goals, he said the global powers were “fragmented” – and that it was unclear whether there had ever been a real widespread will to press the ayatollahs on such issues.
FORMER IDF intelligence chief and INSS executive director Amos Yadlin focused on the same issues, saying: “what is really important is to close the loopholes from the old JCPOA.”
Yadlin said that giving up leverage created by the Trump administration's maximum pressure sanctions campaign without getting new Iranian concessions on ballistic missiles and Tehran's destabilizing of the region “would be a big mistake.”
Sawers, the former MI6 chief, said that though he did not foresee a major breakthrough in 2021, he thought it was possible that there would be a major deal in 2022.
He acknowledged that even in 2022, “a lot of things would have to fall into place for that to happen.”
Moreover, Sawers, who negotiated with Tehran from 2003-2007, stated that, “simply with maximum pressure, we will not find a path to agreements. Iranians are a proud people.”
But he still encouraged seeking a deal, arguing that “it is easier to use force, to destroy things, to kill people. It is a harder task in life to build bridges, build trust and to create an environment where people live in peace with one another.”
In contrast, Bolton criticized Trump for going too easy on the Islamic Republic, saying that sanctions should have been applied faster and more simultaneously to shock them.
Further, Bolton said that the US must be willing to use military force to aid the Iranian public in achieving regime change and to eliminate the possibility that the ayatollahs could get a ready-made nuclear weapon from North Korea.
Ketbi did not sound optimistic about a complete deal before Iran’s presidential election in June 2021, but said that a partial deal might be reached in spring 2021, appearing to allude to the possibility of partial sanctions relief for partial Iranian renewed compliance with the nuclear limitations.