28/02/2021

Analysis

Joe Biden and the future of the JCPOA

Dávid Nagy
Incentives and obstacles in reviving the nuclear deal.

Reviving the JCPOA, or better known as the Iran nuclear deal seems to be a priority for the Biden administration in the Middle-East. The new US president offers a different, more diplomatic way of handling Iran, an extended agreement including the regime’s human rights violation, ballistic missiles and regional aspirations too. However, the “maximum pressure” policy of Trump drove the Islamic Republic into a huge economic hardship, it won’t be easy to convince Tehran to make new concessions while it develops its missile arsenal and nuclear capacity further, stockpiling twelve times more enriched uranium than allowed.

Trump’s Iran policy

Donald Trump’s foreign policy agenda toward Iran has essentially broken with its predecessor, Barrack Obama’s attitude to the regime. As early as 2016 in his campaign Trump declared that under his presidency the US is going to abandon the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) arms control agreement or better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal signed between Iran and seven participants – US, France, United Kingdom, Russia, China, Germany (P5+1) and the EU – in 2015. As a part of his transactional foreign policy approach and view, Trump saw the treaty as a one-sided, flawed agreement, a “bad deal” for his country. So not earlier than 2018, despite the opposition of the European counterparts of the deal, President Trump announced the US’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement. Leaving the JCPOA was a vivid start of the new posture of the US foreign policy towards Iran, called as the “maximum pressure” of which had much harder instruments in its toolkit and left diplomacy more behind.

While leaving of the treaty, sanctions have been reimposed by the US government not just against Iran but every country doing business with the regime, which left the European companies in an uneasy situation.

But under the “maximum pressures policy” besides imposing severe sanctions on the Persian state and Iranian individuals -causing serious hardship to their economy - the US also designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, as the first official national force to be on the list. The  killing of Qassem Soleimani, the key player in the regime’s reginal aspirations, the commander of the Quds force, and performer of Iran’s extraterritorial military operations was also part of the maximized pressure. Meanwhile, Trump gave more economic and military technology support for US’s regional allies such as Israel and Saudi-Arabia and helped Israel archive a historic peace agreement with Arab countries in the frame of the Abraham-accord – which could be implemented in some ways as a regional anti-Iran axis.

Maximum pressure, minimum gain?

With the policy of maximum pressure Trump intended to forcing Iran to the table, and sign another, much broader treaty with them which is more beneficial for the US and the region. However, some experts share the opinion that maximum pressure brought minimum gain from the perspective of the US - and the security and stability of the region. On the one hand, the US-Iran relations hardly could be called diplomatic, it contained mostly harsh language and twitter messages in the past five years. Tensions gone high several times, some expected military conflict between the two sides and another US intervention in the region, while Iran - contrary to its previous promise – did not abide to its commitment in the JCPOA and expanded its nuclear capacity, infrastructure and uranium enrichment.

But on the other hand, Trump strengthened the allies of the US in the region and helped them to seek more strategic independence and forge their own alliance based on common interests (e.g. the Abraham-accords) which certainly increased the stability of the post-American Middle East. If nothing else but managing peace agreements between Israel and Arab countries is a success of Trump’s foreign policy, a move which Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State of the Biden-administration himself called a significant foreign policy accomplishment of the former administration.

Furthermore, maximum pressure didn’t break down but drifted Iran’s economy into serious stress, and because of its battered economy the regime has a weaker negotiating position which the new administration could easily benefit from when making a new deal....

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