Throughout much of the past year, the Biden administration attempted and failed to negotiate a return to the fatally flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and appeased Iran by rescinding and failing to enforce sanctions.
Meanwhile, Iran accelerated its longstanding violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and nuclear deal. Its proxies launched rockets and drones against US bases in Iraq. In a “warning” test on December 24, Iran fired 16 advanced ballistic missiles, including missiles capable of reaching Israel, Egypt, US regional bases and parts of Europe – and some that may be made capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is reporting deep concerns about nuclear material at undeclared secret Iranian sites. Iran thwarted IAEA inspectors’ access and verification mechanisms, and is now enriching uranium up to 63% purity, far closer to weapons grade than the 3.67% level allowed under the 2015 deal. Iran now has an estimated stockpile of almost eight times more enriched uranium than allowed under the deal.
The negotiations have been a farce. Iran is insisting that the US guarantee an immediate, permanent lifting of sanctions, while Iran gives up nothing that could interfere with nuclear weapons development. On November 30, 2021, Iran’s top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, backtracked on all previous six rounds of negotiations. During a November 4 “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” demonstration, celebrating the 42nd anniversary of Iranian Islamists seizing the US Embassy and taking more than 60 US hostages, Iran’s new hard line President Ebrahim Raisi vowed that Iran would “not retreat from the interests of our nation in any way.” Raisi is under sanctions for torturing and hanging thousands of political opponents.
Fixing the 2015 nuclear deal’s fatal flaws has not even been on the negotiating table.
Thus, even in the extremely unlikely event that Iran agrees to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, we would still have strict limits on inspectors’ access to undeclared sites; a prohibition on inspectors entering military sites (where nuclear weaponization is likely to occur); perilously close early sunset dates; provisions enabling Iran’s continuing nuclear enrichment and advanced centrifuge development; side deals allowing Iran to collect its own samples; and a lack of provisions addressing Iran’s terror activities and ballistic missile program.
Reentering the 2015 deal would also not prevent Iran from pocketing billions of dollars of new sanctions relief, and then (again) promptly violating the renewed agreement.
The US badly needs a different, stronger approach.
On December 3, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that Iran does not seem to be serious about returning to the 2015 Iran deal. He pledged the US would not let Iran drag out negotiations while advancing its nuclear program, and that the US would pursue other options if diplomacy fails.
That’s a step in the right direction. But diplomacy has already failed. The time for other options has arrived.
First, President Joe Biden should reimpose and enforce the Trump/Pompeo maximum pressure sanctions that he lifted. Those sanctions dramatically reduced Iran’s ability to fund terror, military activities and its proxies, and gave the US leverage to obtain a better nuclear deal than the 2015 disaster.
The US could offer an ultimatum: if Iran does not comply with the nuclear deal’s requirements to down-blend its highly enriched uranium and excess enriched uranium stockpiles to a natural (unenriched) uranium level within 30 days, maximum and snapback sanctions will be imposed.
The US should also pressure nations and corporations that are aiding Iran circumvent sanctions to stop doing so.
Second, the Biden administration should ensure a credible US military option. There are several ways this may be achieved, such as military exercises in the Persian Gulf, military preparedness plans and enhancing the Central Command’s military capabilities.
Third, the US should promptly (instead of waiting four years) provide Israel with the refueling aircraft, missile defense funding and other items that Israel has requested or would need to attack Iran’s nuclear sites and defend against Iranian attacks. This would add a vital extra level of credibility to a military option.
Fourth, the Biden administration should use the leverage of sanctions and a credible military option to pressure Iran to agree to an effective new deal. Any new deal must provide for real anywhere, anytime inspections including at military bases; have no sunset clauses; require Iran to finally come clean about its nuclear weaponization activities and other non-proliferation treaty violations; restrict missile development; end Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities; and restrict Iran’s funding of terrorism.
The US should also scrap the terrible idea of an “interim” deal. Such a deal would give Iran billions of sanctions relief without reversing its dangerous violation of the prior deal.
The Biden administration should end its public opposition to sabotaging Iran’s dangerous nuclear program.
Providing communications and other non-military assistance to Iranians challenging the oppressive regime could also be helpful.
Finally, the Biden administration should work to restore US energy independence, thereby reducing oil prices and Iran’s increased profits this past year from its illicit oil sales.
Strength is our best hope.
The writer is president of the Zionist Organization of America.