Addressing a session of the Iranian cabinet on Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani lauded the return of the United States to the nuclear negotiating table. Referring to Tuesday’s summit in Vienna, coordinated by the European Union and attended by representatives from the US, Iran, Russia, China, France and Britain, Rouhani said, “Today, a united voice is being heard, as all parties to the nuclear deal have come to the conclusion that there is no solution better than the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and there is no path other than its full implementation.”
The point of his speech was not to express “unity” with Washington, however. After all, the American and Iranian delegates didn’t even sit in the same room during the first day of the talks, which are taking place in the very city where the JCPOA was signed in 2015.
No, the purpose of his pontification was to praise his mullah puppet-masters for once again bringing the “Great Satan” to its knees. No wonder Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi announced the same day that “in less than four months, we have produced 55 kg. [121 lbs.] of 20% enriched uranium... in around eight months, we can reach 120 kg. [264.5 lbs.]”
It’s typical of Iranian officials to boast about the might of the regime, particularly with a presidential election fast approaching amid severe domestic woes. The country’s internecine problems have been increasing steadily since 2018, when former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA and instated a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Tehran.
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the Islamic Republic especially hard, only served to exacerbate an already untenable situation, with more than 70% of workers unemployed and 80% of the population falling below the poverty line. Nor are those Iranians who can’t afford basic food staples buying the regime’s repeated excuse for their plight: that the US is to blame for “violating” the JCPOA and refusing to lift all sanctions.
They’re also fed up with the leadership’s simultaneous bragging about its massively expensive military build-up. On March 15, for example, the government released footage of an underground Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base, which it called a “missile city,” equipped with advanced weaponry and electronic-warfare technology.
According to Middle East Eye, the nuclear-warhead-capable cruise and ballistic missiles at the complex have a range of up to 2,000 km. (approximately 1,243 miles). And last year, the regime announced that it had constructed several such compounds along the coast of the Persian Gulf.
The release of the missile-city video and photos followed Iran’s announcement that it had resumed enriching uranium at the Natanz and Fordow nuclear facilities.
AS WORLD diplomats convened in the Austrian capital on Tuesday to keep the administration of US President Joe Biden ready, willing and eager to reenter the JCPOA, the AEOI began mechanical trials on its domestically produced next-generation IR-9 uranium-enrichment centrifuges. Under the nuclear deal, Iran is only allowed to use IR-1 centrifuges and solely at Natanz.
Tehran had warned the Biden administration that this was going to happen if Washington didn’t rejoin the JCPOA and ease sanctions before February 21.
“Time is running out for the Americans,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the newspaper Hamshahri three weeks ahead of the deadline spelled out in a law passed by the Iranian Parliament in November. The legislation – whose passage elicited chants of “Death to America” from the plenum – consists of nine articles, all related to the requirement that Iran drastically step up its nuclear activity. It also includes a clause about banning short-notice inspections of its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“The more America procrastinates, the more it will... appear that Mr. Biden’s administration doesn’t want to rid itself of Trump’s failed legacy,” Zarif said. “We don’t need to return to the negotiating table. It’s America that has to find the ticket” to do so.
A glitch in Iran’s plans came in the form of a joint statement by the Biden administration and the E3 – France, Germany and Italy – “underlining the dangerous nature of a decision to limit IAEA access,” and urging Tehran “to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity.”
Iran responded by extending the deadline for implementation of its new law. Meanwhile, it launched rocket attacks on US targets in Iraq, provoking the Biden administration to retaliate with deadly airstrikes on Iran-backed militias in neighboring Syria.
Lest one imagine that Washington’s apparently tough stance indicates a rethinking of its desire to rejoin or renegotiate the JCPOA, even Zarif and the rest of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s underlings realize that undoing Trump’s policies takes precedence in the Oval Office over pragmatism and American power. Ironically, then, though they’re undoubtedly congratulating themselves for causing the US president to dispatch a diplomatic team to Vienna this week, Biden and his anti-Trump buddies in Europe deserve a lion’s share of the credit for the capitulation.
IN HER daily briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki perfectly exhibited the administration’s floundering on this issue. When questioned by a reporter about US leverage in the negotiations with Iran, other than the threat of war, she stumbled.
“What it – what would Iran want out of it? Is that what you’re asking?” she replied, either genuinely puzzled or stalling to come up with a rational response in the absence of one.
“No,” the reporter answered. “I’m saying, ‘What’s the stick?’ You’re coming with a carrot, right? Which is, you know, ‘We’ll bring you back in and so on if you dismantle all this stuff.’ And, you know, ‘We’ll eventually give you sanctions relief.’ That’s pretty clear. But they withstood the sanctions under the Trump administration. And, you know – and they – the effect only increased the activity in the nuclear field. So, what – what is left?”
Taking a breath, Psaki explained, “Well, if you... go back historically, just a few years before the Trump administration, to the Obama-Biden administration, sanctions were put in place which incentivize, in many ways, getting them to the table to have the discussion about the Joint Plan of Action. So, look, I would say at this point: Today is the first day of discussions... and they are happening through our European counterparts and partners. We expect them to have difficult portions [sic]. We expect this to be a long process. And we, you know, continue to believe that a diplomatic path is the right path forward, and there are benefits to all sides.”
She concluded by accusing Biden’s predecessor of making matters worse.
“When the Trump administration pulled out of the Joint Plan of Action, what they left us with is a far-decreased visibility of Iran’s nuclear capability, of inspections at their sites, of an understanding of how close they were to acquiring a nuclear weapon,” she asserted. “That’s not in anyone’s interest, certainly not [that of] the American people.”
In other words, despite acknowledgment that Iran was lying about its nuclear program being “peaceful,” and allowing for clauses in the JCPOA that enabled Tehran to perpetuate the deception, former president Barack Obama and then-second-in-command Biden obsessively pushed for the deal anyway. Now that Biden is in charge, things are no different.
His appointment of Robert Malley as special envoy to Iran means picking up where Obama left off and then some. Malley, who left his position as head of the International Crisis Group NGO to accept the post, was a key negotiator of the JCPOA in the first place. Nobody could be better suited for the job of appeasing the ayatollahs than the “conflict resolution” addict who advocates engagement with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is why reports that US and Iran are at a stalemate – with each demanding that the other be the first to comply with the JCPOA before any genuine negotiations can proceed – are laughable. Malley’s goal is to secure a deal; Khamenei’s is to obtain nuclear weapons and tranches of cash to fund them. With the former equal to the latter, the impasse can easily be broken. Indeed, all the regime in Tehran has to do, like last time, is pretend to agree to certain conditions. And its promises, like Zarif’s signature on any document curbing Iran’s nukes, will be as false as the outcome of Biden’s charade is preordained.