Ex-NSC chief to 'Post': Iran nuke maneuvering anticipates Khamenei death

Biden's tone empowers China to prop up Iran

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a virtual speech, on the occasion of the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, in Tehran, Iran November 3, 2020. (photo credit: OFFICIAL KHAMENEI WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a virtual speech, on the occasion of the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, in Tehran, Iran November 3, 2020.
Iran’s position in nuclear negotiations with the US and the world powers is being heavily influenced by the expectation that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will die soon, former Trump administration national security advisor Lt.-Gen. H.R. McMaster told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“I don’t think they care about it,” McMaster said, referring to Iran’s mentality regarding the current round of nuclear negotiations, saying that decisive powers in the Islamic Republic are focused on the post-election period and even the era “after Khamenei passes away.”
More specifically, the former national security advisor was explaining that Tehran would not make any major moves until the post-election era and that hardliners were desperate to regain the presidency in June from the pragmatists.
This does not mean that there might not be a deal at some point.
McMaster was emphasizing, however, that hardline power centers believe that whoever controls the presidency will also have an upper-hand in the battle over who will succeed Khamenei himself as Iran’s true leader.
As such, the current round of negotiations could be a mere prelude to what comes post-June.
Another issue that came up with the former lieutenant-general was that Iran “is not isolated at the same level” that it was leading into the 2015 nuclear deal and that China is feeling freer to prop up the Islamic Republic “because of Biden’s return to a conciliatory policy” in addressing Tehran.
What is original about McMaster’s statement on this issue is that the Biden administration to date has not removed any sanctions from Iran, first requiring Khamenei to return to the 2015 deal’s nuclear limitations.
Recognizing that Beijing almost never fully stopped buying oil from Tehran even during Trump’s term, he said the huge increase in China’s purchases of Iranian oil only came with Biden’s election.
In addition, McMaster said that India is also moving to restore ties with Iran in anticipation of Biden’s desire to end the sanctions standoff with the ayatollahs.
Moreover, he said, Biden “could place secondary sanctions on Chinese banks,” if he really did not approve of Beijing undermining the sanctions regime – which he himself has said he wants to end as part of a deal.
In other words, he described an informal process where the sanctions regime is starting to come apart even before formal removal, simply by virtue of Biden’s intention to reach a deal.
Further, he said that moves to build on its partnership with Iran “fits China’s pandemic-era desire to capture a fleeting window of opportunity to exercise greater influence [globally], since it views itself as having a temporary position of advantage compared to the US,” because America has not yet emerged as much as China from the pandemic quagmire.
McMaster opposed Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal in May 2018. But he explained that this was based on a specific moment in time when he thought the deal could be used to pressure Iran.
In contrast, he is stridently against returning to the same 2015 deal now when the Islamic Republic is under sanctions pressure.
A proponent of a long-term push to communicate with the Iranians to get them to topple their oppressive government, McMaster advised that if the Biden administration would go against advice to maintain sanctions pressure, any new deal would need to be radically different.
Adding on a mere 5-10 years to the nuclear restrictions, some of which expire in 2025 and others in 2030, is insufficient, he said, if there are no general behavioral benchmarks which Iran must meet for removing the restrictions.
He called returning to the deal with its current sunset clause “ludicrous,” noting that 2025 is now only a few years away – which in the life of a nation is practically no time at all.
Other changes he would require for a new deal with Iran would be to rope in the Islamic Republic’s “conventional missiles and other destructive weapons, end its proxy wars and [create] a [nuclear] verification system which gives everyone confidence.”
Regarding nuclear inspections, he recalled that in his 2020 book Battlegrounds, he criticized the 2015 nuclear negotiations for leading to an inspection regime in which, “before the ink was dry, Iran was announcing which inspections it would not allow.”
He also said it was a mistake for anyone in the US to “underestimate the ideology of the revolution, of Iran’s forward defense strategy and [its] desire to restore Iran as an empire.”