Iran Deal Has Become Stuck in Limbo — a Worst-Case Scenario
An unfinalized deal that Washington would nevertheless decline to admit is dead could help Iran advance its nuclear aspirations.
Israelis believe that the American attempt at renewing the Iran deal is now on its deathbed. Americans say reviving it remains their goal. The most likely — and worst — scenario is that the Iran deal will forever be stuck in limbo.
An unfinalized deal that Washington would nevertheless decline to admit is dead could help Iran advance its nuclear aspirations. And that is likely the reason Tehran has upped the diplomatic ante by making demands that even President Biden could not accept.
During a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relation Committee today, Secretary of State Blinken said the administration remains convinced that “getting back into compliance” with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “would be the best way to address the nuclear challenge imposed by Iran.”
In Israel, however, officials are rethinking their previous conclusion that a JCPOA revival is all but inevitable. According to reports by two major Israeli publications, Prime Minister Bennett’s aides now assess that Washington is “closer than ever” to admitting defeat.
Mr. Biden’s hopes of reviving the 2015 pact are “dwindling at an exponential rate,” according to one of the reports, which was based on conversations with senior Israeli officials. That new assessment, reversing past thinking in Jerusalem, was leaked after Messrs. Bennett and Biden spoke on the phone Sunday.
During their talk, Mr. Biden has reportedly agreed to visit Israel as early as June. The Israeli national security adviser, Eyal Hulata, arrived in Washington yesterday for talks with his counterpart, Jacob Sullivan. The two advisers reportedly discussed ideas for a “plan B,” in case diplomacy with Iran fails.
America is “attuned to Israel’s concerns about threats to its security, including first and foremost from Iran and Iranian-backed proxies,” according to a White House readout of the meeting.
Talks in Vienna to renew the JCPOA were suspended in March after Iran demanded the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. A strong bipartisan pushback in Congress convinced Mr. Biden, at least so far, to reject Tehran’s demand.
Delisting the IRGC would “require Iran to take certain actions and to sustain them,” Mr. Blinken said in today’s hearing. Yet, he declined to endorse President Trump’s original decision to add the top Iranian terror organ to the list of terrorist organizations.
Instead, Mr. Blinken noted that both the George W. Bush and the Barack Obama administrations declined to add the IRGC to the list, because, he said, “the gain was minimal and the pain was potentially great.”
Yet, Mr. Blinken acknowledged that Iranian terrorists pose an “ongoing threat against American officials, both present and past.” According to recent reports, at least three Trump-era officials now require extra security measures after IRGC plots to assassinate them were discovered.
At Tehran, meanwhile, a former parliamentarian, Ali Motahari, let out a worst-kept secret in the Mideast. “When we began our nuclear activity our goal was indeed to build a bomb,” Mr. Motahari told an Iranian radio outlet. The idea of building a bomb as a form of regional “intimidation” was known to all officials in Tehran, he said.
The admission, while far from earth-shaking news, contradicts assertions by Obama administration officials. As part of selling the JCPOA to the American public in 2015, these officials highlighted a Fatwa that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, allegedly issued against the acquisition of a nuclear weapon. No such religious edict was ever made public.
As Iran insists on delisting the IRGC and demands less rigorous nuclear inspections to boot, the prospects of renewing the deal indeed look bleak. Yet an American plan to reimpose onerous global sanctions against the Islamic Republic is far from guaranteed.
“One would hope that increased communication between America and Israel would lead to increased conversions on what a plan B on Iran would look like,” the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Iran watcher, Behnam Ben Taleblu, says. Yet, he adds, the more likely outcome is a “plan C: not announce that the talks have collapsed, but also not revert to pressure” on Iran.
President Obama once dubbed his policy of ignoring North Korea’s nuclear program “strategic patience.” A return by Mr. Biden to such patience in Iran’s case would allow the Islamic Republic to further “intimidate” the Mideast.