Ayatollahs Are Leading On Biden as They Run Out Clock on Nuclear Deal

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.

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Even as Tehran all but tells Americans we must wait until it perfects nuclear arm capabilities, Washington is ill-prepared to abandon the dream of renewed diplomacy.

For months the government of President Ebrahim Raisi claimed it “very soon” would heed Washington’s pleas, and travel to Vienna to negotiate a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. At the same time, Tehran amps up uranium enrichment, blocks international inspections, and otherwise invalidates a return to the Obama-era diplomatic pact as written.

Some in President Biden’s inner circle remain adamant that a mutual return to JCPOA compliance is the best course of action. With Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid in Washington this week, talk of unspecified “other options,” is peppered in as well.

Such talk may be a reaction to Tehran acting like a pretty girl who is romanced by the school’s top athlete; she endlessly leads him on, but never seriously intends to end up as his date.

“There will be more interactions on the Vienna talks in the coming days,” is how a Tehran foreign ministry spokesman described this week his government’s internal deliberations. “Our colleagues are reviewing the issues day and night. We won’t miss an hour to finalize the date, once the internal review process on the negotiations is concluded.”

There she is, leading on Mr. Biden.

According to Mr. Biden’s top adviser on Iran and the man likely to lead the Vienna talks if they ever resume, wooing Iran remains a worthwhile pursuit. The “most significant confidence-building measure with Iran was to say upfront we want to revive the JCPOA and are prepared to lift sanctions to achieve that,” Robert Malley told the Carnegie Endowment today.

“We have to prepare for a world where Iran doesn’t have constraints on its nuclear program and we have to consider options for dealing with that,” Mr. Malley added. “This is what we are doing while we hope they do go back to the deal.”

Secretary of State Blinken, however, said Wednesday that “time is running out.” Appearing next to Mr. Lapid and the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed, Mr. Blinken added, “We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course.” He also announced he’d soon travel for consultations with Gulf allies.

Mr. Lapid went a step further. “There are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil,” he said. “If a terror regime is going to acquire a nuclear weapon we must act.”

Israel has long conducted a clandestine war to slow Iran’s nuclear ambitions, including, it is widely believed, assassinations and sabotage, and, Israel has boasted, secreting a whole nuclear archive from the heart of Tehran. Details of several such operations, like the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, have been widely publicized, if not confirmed; others remain secret.

A former director of Mossad, Yossi Cohen, this week said that while Iran has amassed nearly enough fissile material, Israel’s secret war has assured it remains far from obtaining other components necessary for a bomb.

“I think that Iran, to this day, is not even close to acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Cohen told a gathering convened by the Jerusalem Post. “This is due to longstanding efforts by some forces in the world.”

Mr. Cohen derided the JCPOA, an agreement in which, he emphasized, “the C stands for comprehensive.” For now, he said, “it isn’t comprehensive; it has to be comprehensive.”

That, essentially, was what Mr. Blinken argued when announcing the administration’s intention to return to the diplomacy that President Trump had abandoned two years earlier. During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Blinken told the Senate that America would seek a “longer and stronger agreement,” rather than return to the original deal as written.

The bit about “longer and stronger” was immediately nixed by Tehran and quickly abandoned by Washington too. After conducting six futile diplomatic sessions at Vienna, Iran, in August, made Mr. Raisi, a “hardliner,” president. It then kept postponing a return to the negotiation table.

Instead, it increasingly publicizes its atomic prowess. Recently it declared that it has amassed 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20%. That’s well beyond the level allowed by the JCPOA. It’s nearly enough for a nuclear bomb.

Washington forever agonizes over, in the JCPOA, a diplomatic pact that is well past its sell-by date. Yet it’s by no means clear that either of the new administrations in Washington and Jerusalem are serious about those “other measures.” Are hints of military options merely intended to, yet again, lure Mr. Raisi back to Vienna?


Twitter @bennyavni

Correction: Six is the number of futile diplomatic sessions held in Vienna. The number of futile sessions was given incorrectly in the bulldog edition.

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