Last week, the Biden administration made a major step toward rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran when it announced it was willing to begin talks with the Islamic republic without preconditions and accepted an invitation by European states to broker an initial meeting. A meeting may take place this week.
The administration also dropped several sanctions placed on Iran by the Trump administration, including travel restrictions on Iranian officials.
The timing of the Biden administration’s announcement was curious in light of a surge in threatening and belligerent actions by Iran, such as a Feb. 15 rocket attack against a U.S. base in Irbil, Iraq, by an Iranian-backed militia and stepped-up attacks against Yemeni civilian targets and Saudi Arabia by the Houthi rebels, an Iranian terrorist surrogate.
Iran also recently accelerated its nuclear weapons program by producing uranium metal and increasing uranium enrichment.
In addition, Tehran has threatened to expel International Atomic Energy inspectors if oil and banking sanctions are not lifted by Feb. 21 and issued a list of seven preconditions for the United States to meet before it will agree to resume nuclear talks. Iranian officials also have insisted that they will refuse to discuss any changes to address flaws in the original agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or a follow-up deal.
It also is strange that a new president would plan to make such a huge policy change so early in his administration before conducting a full policy review.
Typically, new presidential administrations contemplating significant changes in foreign policy will spend several months consulting with allies and reviewing applicable intelligence as part of a policy review to generate policy options for the president.
For example, the Trump administration did a 90-day review of the JCPOA from April to July 2017. President Trump delayed withdrawing from the nuclear agreement to give U.S. diplomats an opportunity to work with European leaders and members of Congress to find ways to fix the JCPOA’s flaws or negotiate a better follow-on agreement. When these efforts failed, Trump pulled out of the JCPOA on May 8, 2018.
By contrast, without conducting any internal review and with only a few brief discussions with foreign officials, Biden officials are planning to transform U.S. Middle East policy and U.S. policy toward Iran even though President Biden has not been in office for a full month. As of today, Biden has only spoken to one Middle East head of state – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Making this more worrisome, Iran is far more dangerous to the region and the world than when Biden was vice president.
Despite the huge concessions the U.S. made to negotiate the JCPOA – including billions of dollars in sanctions relief – Iran’s belligerent behavior significantly worsened after the nuclear deal was reached. Iran’s support of terrorism and meddling in regional disputes grew worse.
Sound and competent foreign policymaking can’t be rushed.
And over the last two years, Iran has used ballistic missiles and drones to attack U.S. bases in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, including an oil facility. There also is conclusive evidence of massive Iranian cheating on the nuclear deal to continue its covert nuclear weapons program.
So why is Joe Biden in such a hurry to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal?
A significant reason appears to be Biden’s obsession to quickly reverse everything Donald Trump did as president. This has been evident in the dozens of executive orders Biden has signed since his first day in office.
The new president is probably especially committed to rejoining the JCPOA as soon as possible because Trump made a big deal of trashing this agreement, which most Democrats regard as President Barack Obama’s legacy foreign policy achievement. For Biden and his aides, returning to the Iran nuclear deal is payback – and personal.
The second reason for the haste probably is because Biden’s aides, many of whom worked on the JCPOA during the Obama administration, think they know all they need to know about the JCPOA and therefore don’t believe a policy review is necessary. They didn’t see any need to consult with Middle East leaders before Biden agreed to send U.S. diplomats to a possible EU-brokered meeting with Iranian officials.
Such know-it-all arrogance was common in the Obama administration and is the reason Obama usually didn’t meet with his daily intelligence briefers. This attitude hurt Obama’s foreign policymaking, especially on the threat from ISIS, and could hurt the Biden administration because, despite their experience working on the Iran nuclear issue, they would learn a lot by going through intelligence on this issue from the past four years and carefully consulting with foreign leaders and U.S. government experts. Biden officials will find after speaking with Middle East leaders that most supported Trump’s Iran policy and strongly oppose the U.S. rejoining the JCPOA.
And finally, Biden may be moving so fast on opening nuclear talks with Iran due in response to the recent surge in Iranian provocations and threats. This would be very disturbing if true since it would mean Biden is giving into Iranian blackmail and would telegraph to Tehran that it can manipulate Biden policymaking by committing acts of violence. Biden officials must reassure the American people and the world that this is not the case.
Sound and competent foreign policymaking can’t be rushed. There should be careful deliberations and reviews of intelligence to ensure the president makes decisions based on the best possible and most objective information. Rushing into a decision to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal because of hatred of Trump, a know-it-all attitude by Biden aides or Iranian threats is certain to result in a bad outcome that will endanger U.S. and global security as well as America’s global credibility.