Abraham Accords Could Be Next In Biden’s Retreat
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
As Washington retreats from prior conditions it has set to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, Arab allies recalculate their approach to the Islamic Republic. Can reversal of the Abraham Accords be far behind?d
“We are seeking to have good relations with Iran,” Riyadh’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Saudi TV this week. Huh? Until recently the Kingdom’s de-facto ruler was considered one of the region’s top hardliners on Iran. Now his emissaries are reported to meet in Baghdad with top American and Iranian officials.
What changed? America.
Washington’s attitude toward the Islamic Republic is obviously much softer than it was under President Trump. But now it seems to have softened even in the course of President Biden’s first 100 days.
Gone is National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s vow to seek a “longer and stronger agreement.” Instead American negotiators in Vienna now toil to appease Tehran counterparts with the hope of merely returning to the original 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Yet another American condition for reinking the JCPOA is fast eroding. Washington said it would not remove sanctions before Tehran reverses all recent enrichment violations. That condition is now melting, even as Tehran is resolute, vowing to not move an inch before all sanctions are removed.
To return to the deal, “the Biden administration is considering a near wholesale rollback of some of the most stringent Trump-era sanctions,” the Associated Press reported this week. Those, according to the AP, may include sanctions related to the Islamic Republic’s terrorism and other non-nuclear activities.
“Considering” isn’t as futuristic as it sounds. One reason American-imposed sanctions hurt the Iranian regime so badly was that the international banking system is dominated by the greenback. When America threatened to block access to dollar-based commerce, potential sanction busters shunned trade with Iran.
Now the mere talk of “wholesale rollback” effectively amounts to actual sanction removal. In February, South Korea sent $1 billion to Tehran from frozen funds previously held when banks dreaded dealing with Iran. The quicker such fears fade, the faster Iran dwindling coffers will replenish.
So just as in John Kerry’s days as Secretary of State, America seems eager to lose any leverage to meet all of Tehran’s demands. Mr. Kerry has befriended the Iranian Foreign minister, Javad Zarif. According to a leaked recording of the ever-smiling Iranian diplomat’s hours-long chat with a regime buddy, he often talked to Mr. Kerry in the last four years. They even compared notes on Israeli military operations in the region.
Yet, as the Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo reported this week, such purported friendship is limited to Americans in the mold of Mr. Kerry, not to their country. “I believe Iran and the US will never be friends as long as the Islamic Republic preserves its identity,” Mr. Zarif says in one previously unreported nugget from that taped chat.
The recording exposes Mr. Zarif’s self-admitted political weakness and his government’s inability to confront figures in the military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Nevertheless, America continues to race toward a deal with Mr. Zarif’s underlings even as Iran’s June national elections fast approach.
Poised to sweep that election, which is widely projected to be shunned by the vast majority of Iranians, the military escalates confrontations with America. Earlier this month the US Navy fired warning shots at IRGC vessels that habitually swarm and harass American ships in the Gulf.
Naval muscle flexing aside, however, America seems eager to quickly resume the Obama-era diplomacy of showering Tehran’s regime with funds in order to cut down Mideast military activity.
Meanwhile the Biden administration frowns on Saudi Arabia, scoring its human rights record even as it overlooks similar, and worse, Iranian violations. Worse, it threatens a cut in arms deliveries to Riyadh, highlighting the role of the Saudi Crown Prince, known as MbS, in waging the cruel war in Yemen (and overlooking Iranian-backed Houthis’ increased attacks on Saudi territory.)
No wonder Riyadh appears eager to please its American ally and benefactor by making nice to Tehran.
According to several reports, CIA Director William Burns secretly flew to Baghdad recently to meet with a top Iranian general, Ali Shamkhani. (Secretly because Washington officially shuns direct negotiations with Iran.) In the room, beside the two and Iraqi officials, was a Saudi representative, apparently negotiating an end to the Kingdom’s involvement in Yemen.
The frantic diplomacy points in one direction: America is returning to President Obama’s attitude toward the Saudi-led Sunni Arabs, instructing them to “share the neighborhood” with the Iranian regime. Sensing where the desert wind is blowing, the Saudis signal readiness to join America’s frantic diplomacy.
Meanwhile, remember: the Kingdom is yet to join the Abraham Accords but peace between Arab states and Israel would have been much weaker without tacit Saudi support. So “share the region” with an Iranian regime that vows to never tolerate the presence of a “Zionist regime” in the Mideast?
Paradoxically, one way Riyadh can try to please Washington by appeasing Tehran while avoiding real harm to core Saudi interests is to publicly distance itself from the Abraham Accords. It would harm regional peace but, hey, at least some in Washington will applaud — even though these peace treaties are just about the only Trump-era policy Mr. Biden wouldn’t reverse. He even vows to deepen them.