Biden Getting Set To Accept Iran’s Status as a ‘Near-Nuclear’ State
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 Tehran’s diplomats play for time in Vienna, President Biden’s team is settling on a new plan: accept a near-nuclear Iran — and blame President Trump.
Officially, spokesmen for the Islamic Republic claim progress in talks to renew the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the administration likes to call the articles of appeasement.
“We sense a retreat, or rather realism, from the Western parties in the Vienna negotiations,” Tehran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, told reporters recently.
Meanwhile, according to an Axios report, National Security Adviser Jacob Sullivan told his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, that “to deter Iran from increasing uranium enrichment to 90 percent purity” America would consider a renewal of tough global sanctions on the mullah regime.
To do that, a mechanism known as “snapback” would need to be triggered at the United Nations Security Council. America, though, needs a fellow JCPOA member, such as Britain, to demand that sucha reimposition of full global sanctions.
That’s because Security Council members rebuffed President Trump when he tried to trigger snapback, arguing America lost its privilege to employ that measure when it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018.
Even if snapback succeeds in reimposing global sanctions — a big if, to be sure — would it deter Iran from enriching uranium to 90 percent? And wouldn’t Iran by that time be too far gone? In other words, is it a real threat?
Since President Biden vowed to re-enter the JCPOA, arguing that it is the best way for blocking Iran’s path to a bomb, Tehran has amped-up enrichment levels. At first, last January, it started enriching up to 20 percent.
That itself was in violation of the JCPOA. Shortly after, using new machines, it has stockpiled at least 55 pounds of uranium enriched to 60 percent — getting ever closer to becoming a nuclear power.
The Institute for Science and International Security reports that Iran can have enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon in as little as three weeks. It could detonate a nuclear explosive underground in as little as six months.
While enriching uranium at even the 60 percent level has no civilian use, CIA director WIlliam Burns said recently that the agency “doesn’t see any evidence that Iran’s supreme leader has made a decision to move to weaponize.”
Messers. Burns and Sullivan are considered the hawkish members of the Biden administration, at least in comparison with Robert Malley, the aide who is the top appeaser and who leads the Vienna talks.
Even the administration’s relative hawks are warming to the idea of at least allowing Iran to make the decision when to go kaboom. The idea is that Mr. Biden would be able to crow his policies “slowed” Iran, in contrast with Mr. Trump’s decision to replace the JCPOA with “maximum pressure.”
As Behnam Ben Taleblu, Iran watcher at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, says, the Biden administration is settling on a Plan B on Iran.
“Rather than a plan about merging diplomatic, economic, military, and intelligence options to counter Tehran’s threats,” he says, “there appears to be increasingly rhetorical comfort with merely blaming the Trump administration for the current impasse.”
FDD’s chief executive, Mark Dubowitz, writes in the Wall Street Journal that Mr. Biden “will soon face the fateful choice between allowing the clerical regime to become a nuclear-weapons power and using military force to stop it.”
Mideast leaders from Israel to the Gulf fear that rather than making such a choice, Mr. Biden would kick the can down the road. If so, Tehran as a threshold state would feel much freer to attack them with proxies and its own military.
In recent days Hamas and other Iran-backed groups escalated attacks from Gaza, including rockets that landed at sea across from the Tel Aviv beach. Saudi Arabia is often bombarded by rockets and drones from Yemen, launched by the Iran-backed Houthi militia.
And even as Washington struggled to appease Iranian diplomats in Vienna this week, its Iraqi-backed militias attacked American bases in Iraq with rockets and armed drones.
As the Islamic Republic marks the anniversary of the assassination of its chief terror-exporter, Qasem Soleimani, Supreme Leader Khamenei is threatening to assassinate Mr. Trump and his erstwhile state secretary, Mike Pompeo.
With a new administration in Tehran more eager to assert military power than negotiate the removal of sanctions, such aggression is bound to increase. It will be worse if Iran becomes a threshold nuclear state.
If it can detonate a bomb with a mere flip of the switch, a decision to use economic, diplomatic, or military means to deter Iranian aggression will become increasingly complicated.
Tehran senses that for Mr. Biden, internal political calculations are more important than ending its nuclear ambitions. So far Iranian virtuoso diplomats have played appeasing America’s envoys in Vienna like Chico Marx’s dancing fingers on the piano keys.