Biden must set a deadline for Iran nuclear talks - editorial

While Biden understandably wants to try to reach a diplomatic resolution that will stop Iran, there needs to be a deadline, and the Iranians need to know that they cannot drag this on forever.

 US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at his residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)
US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at his residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022
(photo credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed the “Jerusalem Declaration” on Thursday, a document meant to embolden the strategic alliance between the two countries.

At the news conference following the signing ceremony, Biden said that the US will not wait indefinitely for Iran to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, but stopped short of setting a deadline for the end of negotiations.

“We’ve laid out for the leadership of Iran what we’re willing to accept to get into the JCPOA, and we’re waiting for a response,” Biden said. “When it will come is uncertain, but we’re not going to wait forever.”

“We’ve laid out for the leadership of Iran what we’re willing to accept to get into the JCPOA, and we’re waiting for a response. When it will come is uncertain, but we’re not going to wait forever.”

Joe Biden

The US, he added, is “committed to ensuring Iran never obtains nuclear weapons,” and that doing so was “vital to the security of Israel and the US, and the rest of the world as well. I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome, while continuing to work with Israel to counter other threats... [such as] proxies like Hezbollah.”

 US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at his residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN) US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at his residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)

Biden’s comments were important.

He spoke tough in explaining that the US will not wait forever for the Iranian mullahs to decide in what direction they want to lead their country, and what they plan to do with their nuclear program.

In an interview with Channel 12 a day earlier, Biden said that the US would use force “as a last resort” to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon “The only thing worse than Iran now is Iran with nuclear weapons,” Biden said, explaining why the US continues to support the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. 

I think it was a giant mistake for the previous president to get out of the deal. They are closer to a nuclear weapon than ever before.”

Biden’s commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is admirable, and falls in line with all of his predecessors who made similar declarations. 

The problem is that Iran is today not that far away from nuclear capability, and continues to plow forward with every day that passes.

Earlier this month, Iran further escalated its uranium enrichment with the use of advanced machinery at its underground Fordow plant, in a setup that can more easily change between enrichment levels.

The use of these so-called modified sub-headers means Iran could switch more quickly and easily to enriching to higher purity levels.

This is concerning, because while Iran is required to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency about such a switch, if it chooses not to, it could escape detection for some time as there is currently a lag between Iran’s enrichment and IAEA inspectors’ verification of what is produced.

All of this leads to one conclusion: time is not on our side. 

While Biden understandably wants to try to reach a diplomatic resolution that will stop Iran, there needs to be a deadline, and the Iranians need to know that they cannot drag this on forever.

The US also has tools. One is presenting the Iranians with a credible military threat. The other is upping the sanctions against Iran while threatening that more will be imposed if the Islamic Republic continues to stall and to spin its centrifuges.

Iran is a threat that will not simply go away on its own, and needs a comprehensive solution in which America needs to lead. Waiting is not a strategy.

As Seth Frantzman wrote in The Jerusalem Post this week, Tehran by hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin next week is trying to showcase that it can work with countries that want to unseat the US as a global hegemonic power. 

This is the messaging Iran is putting out, and one that Turkey, Pakistan, China, Russia and other authoritarian regimes believe in.

A clearer message than the one Biden presented in Israel is needed for Iran to understand that it cannot continue on its current path. 

The first step would be to set a deadline for the talks. The Iranians need to know that the world will not wait, and that if they do not comply, they will ultimately pay a price.