The true status of current negotiations to reinstate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran is unknown to the American public—most of whom are tragically indifferent to the outcome. This is so even though the successful negotiation of this deal with Iran back in 2015 represents one of the greatest triumphs of diplomacy in the last hundred years. What we do know is this triumph was followed by tragedy—a premeditated tragedy—the sort of tragedy only fools can produce. But very few Americans care. That is the way it is with foreign policy. On the one hand, you can start wars to great public acclaim, and on the other, you can destroy hard-won diplomatic achievements almost without public notice.
At the end of President Obama’s term of office (January 2017) the JCPOA was complete and in force. In exchange for a lifting of “nuclear-related sanctions,” Iran undertook not to pursue research that might allow her to develop nuclear weapons. Up until May of 2018 “Iran’s compliance has been repeatedly verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which oversees the most intrusive inspections regime ever negotiated.” It was in May of 2018 that Donald Trump, perhaps the most despicable human being to hold the presidency since Andrew Jackson, withdrew from the JCPOA, apparently for two reasons: (1) was the treaty was completed by Obama and Trump wanted to destroy the achievements of his non-white predecessor, and (2) Trump thought he could bully the Iranians into a “better deal.” It is important to note that the other signatories to the treaty did not initially follow Trump’s lead. “The leaders of France, the United Kingdom, and Germany issued a joint statement on behalf of their countries that reemphasized their support for the deal and its importance to the nonproliferation regime.” The United Nations expressed “deep concern” over Trump’s decision and released a statement in support of the JCPOA. Russia’s Foreign Ministry also reiterated its support for the JCPOA, and further stated that “U.S. actions compromise international trust in the IAEA.”
How did the Iranians react to Trump’s withdrawal from the treaty and reimposition of harsh sanctions? At first, Tehran suggested that if the other signatories to the agreement would remain loyal to their obligations, Iran too would keep to the treaty. Unfortunately, most of the European nations involved would soon succumb to U.S. economic pressure and cease to hold to their obligations. Nonetheless, it was not until a year following Trump’s irresponsible act that Iran announced that “The Islamic Republic of Iran in reaction to the exit of America from the nuclear deal and the bad promises of European countries in carrying out their obligations will restart a part of the nuclear activities which were stopped under the framework of the nuclear deal.” Even while the Iranian government took this position, it insisted that if at any time the United States returned to the treaty and removed all nuclear-related sanctions, Iran too would return to its obligations. Tehran even suggested a process whereby the U.S. and Iran would take simultaneous steps to that end.
Everyone but Trump devotees, Israel and its supporters, and those Iranian exiles who would like to see the return of the country’s monarchy recognized that the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA had been a mistake. Accordingly, in the campaign run-up to the 2020 presidential election in the U.S., the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, promised that upon election he would rejoin the treaty if Iran returned to compliance as well.
Biden did win, but he has not yet fulfilled his promise. Instead, he entered an extended period of negotiations that is still ongoing. At first it was said that these were about “who goes first” when it comes to returning to requirements of the treaty. Was Iran to give up the small steps in nuclear enrichment since the Trump withdrawal, or was the U.S. going to go first in removing the draconian sanctions placed on Iran by the Trump administration? It was Iran who realized the childish nature of this question and offered a simultaneous return to the compliance mentioned above. While the Biden administration rejected this offer, it has been reported that now both sides are working toward “simultaneous, sequential steps” back to requirements of the treaty.
Misleading the American Public
In the meantime, the Biden administration has been releasing misinformation to the public. For instance, Biden has insisted that sanctions relief depends on Iran “returning to compliance.” But, of course, for anyone familiar with the relevant events, it was Washington that broke the treaty and needed to return to compliance. Any subsequent Iranian actions following Trump’s folly were, and still are, perfectly legal under the terms of the JCPOA. Joe Biden can continue to justify draconian economic sanctions in this way—sanctions that are ruining the lives of millions—only because he is addressing an ignorant American audience.
When Iran failed to be bullied, Biden’s diplomats adopted a “shift the blame” tactic. In May 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “Iran, I think, knows what it needs to do to come back into compliance on the nuclear side, and what we haven’t yet seen is whether Iran is ready and willing to make a decision to do what it has to do. That’s the test and we don’t yet have an answer.” Translation: the American people should know that we, the Biden administration, are trying, but those Iranians seem to be too thick-headed to do what is necessary. So if the whole thing fails, it is their fault and not ours.
Blinken went on, “If both sides can return to the original deal, then we can use that as a foundation both to look at how to make the deal itself potentially longer and stronger—and also [to] engage on these other issues, whether it’s Iran’s support for terrorism [or] its destabilizing support for different proxies throughout the Middle East.”
That scenario will not encourage the Iranians. They have repeatedly stated that the JCPOA, and the present negotiations, are about two things: sanctions and the scope of nuclear development. It is not about Iranian foreign policy, which has been so blandly assumed to be “terrorism” by both Trump and Biden. If Mr. Blinken keeps tagging on these extras, we will still be running in circles come Christmas.
What is the diplomatic aim of the Biden administration? Is it to pursue the Democrats’ traditional, and bankrupt, aim of sounding as tough on foreign policy as the Republicans? That irrelevant goal (remember most Americans don’t care about foreign policy) would not be surprising coming from a professional Democratic politician of Joe Biden’s generation. However, after all the work that has gone into the JCPOA and all the suffering endured by the Iranian population due to brutal U.S. sanctions, such a petty motive reflects the mentality of a street gang competing with rivals, rather than the peaceful ends of an alleged civilized society.
With statements like this, Secretary of State Blinken transforms himself into someone we might mistake for a
Fox News TV anchor. It would seem that many who pride themselves on eschewing Fox’s lies are ready to swallow whole Mr. Blinken’s bunk.
An Israeli Connection?
We know that ex-Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and ex-President Trump were in agreement on Iran policy. In this regard, all the yelling and screaming about Iran’s nuclear program carried on by both men hid their real goal. Particularly for Netanyahu, the hyperbole was aimed at creating a “credible reason” to force regime change in Iran, even if it meant a U.S. invasion. Essentially, the model here was Iraq. Netanyahu was ready to pursue this end till the last dying American soldier. Obviously, the JCPOA was a major obstacle in that path. So was Barack Obama, who thought he was helping Israel and the world in general by negotiating the treaty.
Now Netanyahu and Trump are gone from office. However, why should we believe that the new Israeli government has changed the ultimate goal? And why should we believe that Joe Biden—who is, as he never fails to remind us, an “ironclad” Zionist—will really follow in Obama’s footsteps?
In June, Israel sent some of its highest-ranking leaders to see Biden. These included Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Both meetings were basically about Iran. “Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch,” Biden told Rivlin. This was billed as a “stark warning” to Iran—a country which has, for religious as well as other reasons, disavowed the desire for such a weapon. How many Americans know this? Does President Biden know this?
Many scholars and other experts in Middle East policy believe that “Mr. Biden’s calculations are rooted in a different era of American-Israeli relations—when Israel’s security concerns commanded far more attention than Palestinian grievances.” This is true. But there is a more personal connection. Biden personally identifies with Israel like no other U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson. He collects yarmulkes and is reported to have knelt down in an impromptu “show of respect” after learning that Rivka Ravitz, President Rivlin’s Orthodox chief of staff, was the mother of 12 children. The Israeli Orthodox Jews often have such large families out of fear of a “demographic holocaust”—that is, the consequences of the Palestinians’ much higher birth rate than that of most Israeli Jews. Finally, Biden has completely accepted the highly debatable notion that world Jewry, many of whom are not Zionists, cannot be safe apart from the existence of Israel.
Those same experts also believe that, when it comes to Israel, President Biden’s approach has much to do with domestic politics. Thus, getting back to the JCPOA is less important than catering to the desires of the Israel Lobby. This only makes sense for a politician born and bred to the power of that lobby.
The U.S. and Israeli leaders are suffering from a group-think environment and tunnel vision, all shaped in good part by political pressure generated by dominant special interests. At least in this instance, one cannot say the same for the Iranians who, though led by a rigid religious elite, broke through their tunnel vision and joined the JCPOA treaty. The present stalemate is the work of American ideologues tied hand and foot to a major U.S. lobby.
Outside the tunnel one can see the obvious answer to the present stalemate. Having been polite and empathetic toward Rivlin and Gantz, Joe Biden should ask over to the Oval Office an outsider, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. At the end of June Guterres said, “I appeal to the United States to lift or waive its sanctions outlined in the plan.” He also appealed to Iran to return to full implementation of the deal. Right from the beginning of Biden’s election, the Iranians have been willing to follow Guterres’s lead. It is Biden who has temporized while being encouraged by his confidants from Jerusalem.