AMAC Exclusive-By Simon Maas
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned last week that if a nuclear deal isn’t reached with Iran, the world must “enact Plan B: Use force, use economic pressure, use diplomatic pressure.” The problem is, the Biden administration has no such Plan B — and Iran knows it.
Since the early days of the 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden has made clear that one of his top priorities is to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which placed temporary curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting large-scale sanctions on Tehran. Former President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord in 2018 after calling it “horrible” and “one-sided” throughout his own presidential campaign in 2016.
Biden and his team have repeatedly said for years now that the nuclear deal is the best and only real way to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. Even as some Congressional Democrats openly break with the administration and admit what Republicans have long asserted – that the deal jeopardizes American national security interests in the Middle East – Biden has refused to back down. Moreover, he has grown increasingly desperate to reach a deal, any deal – a desperation quite evident to the Iranians and their Russian allies.
Last February, for example, Biden said the U.S. wouldn’t lift sanctions on Iran to jumpstart negotiations over reviving the deal. He added that his administration would only provide the Iranian regime such economic relief if it stopped enriching uranium beyond the limit of 3.67% purity imposed by the agreement.
Four months later, however, the Treasury Department lifted sanctions on several former Iranian officials and energy companies without the regime meeting the requirements first demanded by the Biden administration.
Both moves came amid reports that Biden’s team was looking for ways to inject momentum into stalled nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Earlier this year, to cite another example, the Biden administration granted additional sanctions relief to Iran, signing waivers related to Iran’s civilian nuclear activities. This move was also meant to entice Iran to return to compliance with the nuclear deal.
In each case, lifting sanctions was a unilateral step by the administration for which the U.S. received nothing in return. And all the while, Iran has continued to enrich uranium far beyond the limits of the deal, despite Biden’s pledge from last February.
Currently, the regime is stockpiling a significant amount of highly enriched uranium at 60% purity, just shy of weapons-grade level needed for a nuclear bomb.
It’s clear Biden’s team wants a deal at all costs, but with no tangible evidence whatsoever that they are pursuing any other options and many sanctions already lifted, all the U.S. negotiating chips appear to already be on the table.
In Jerusalem last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other Israeli officials for their alternative to a nuclear deal to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment. The question was either genuine or meant to make a point that there are no good alternatives. Either way, the implication of Blinken’s question was the Iran nuclear deal currently being negotiated is the Biden administration’s Plan A, B, C, and D.
But Bennett did provide another option: deterring Iran from reaching weapons-grade enrichment by ramping up sanctions to the maximum, similar to what the U.S. and other countries are now doing to Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
In other words, Bennett wants Washington to impose maximum economic pressure on Iran, the same policy pursued by the Trump administration.
Critics will of course argue that maximum pressure didn’t work, noting Iran was closer to being able to build a nuclear bomb at the end of Trump’s presidency than at the beginning. But this argument misses the larger point: maximum pressure was never going to work in the mere two years the sanctions were really back on – and even without maximum pressure, Iran is still moving rapidly towards possessing a bomb.
From the beginning of Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, Iran was intent on pursuing a strategy of “waiting out” Trump, enduring the crippling pain in hopes of a Democrat winning the White House in 2020 and alleviating the pressure on Iran in order to revive the nuclear deal, thereby saving the regime from economic ruin. This was a strategy which was allegedly actively encouraged by John Kerry and other alumni of the Obama administration, who were whispering in Tehran’s ear to hold on just a little bit longer.
If Trump won a second term and continued the pressure for another four long years, Iran likely would have given in, seeing no choice but to renegotiate a nuclear deal more favorable to Washington.
Or, even if Biden won but instead continued Trump’s policy of maximum pressure, Tehran would have truly been devastated and, seeing that a tough-on-Iran policy had bipartisan support, been more inclined to renegotiate in terms more favorable to the U.S.
Of course, nothing of the sort happened. Biden was elected and sought to appease Iran, signaling he wanted any nuclear deal, no matter how bad for the U.S. The current deal taking shape in talks in Vienna by all accounts looks considerably worse for America and more favorable to Iran than even the 2015 version. Iranian (and Russian) negotiators have even publicly celebrated the administration’s concessions as a U.S. “retreat.”
Simply put, Biden and his team have lost all credibility and undermined their negotiating position by making their desperate desire for a deal so plainly known.
This is why Iran had the audacity to demand in negotiations that the U.S. remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an Iranian military force, from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
The audacious nature of Iran’s request – asking to remove the IRGC from the terrorist designation list when the negotiations are supposed to be about agreeing to nuclear restrictions in return for lifting narrow nuclear-related sanctions — shows just how much the regime thought it could get away with. Although some reports have suggested that Biden may not cave on this one item, others have said that the administration wants to find a workaround by offering to delist some elements of the IRGC but not others.
The Iranian regime does not believe the U.S. is interested in an alternative to the nuclear deal, or that any Plan B exists. This is especially troubling since, as Bennett told Blinken, the deal is ultimately just a “Band-Aid,” a way to kick the can down the road.
Consider how, under the current terms of the deal that have been reported, all restrictions on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and build advanced machines to enrich uranium more efficiently expire over the next decade. Just by sticking to the terms of the accord, the regime will be able to have a vast, industrial-sized nuclear program in short order, putting Tehran permanently on the threshold of breaking out toward a nuclear bomb at a time of their choosing.
Add billions of dollars’ worth of immediate, upfront sanctions relief, much of which will go toward Iran’s military and terrorist proxies, and it becomes clear what kind of effect this nuclear deal will have on the world. If he successfully revives the deal, Biden will put his immediate successors in a terrible position to stop Iran’s march to the bomb, with the U.S. having considerably less leverage and Iran having zero incentive to make concessions.
The real question Americans should be asking is whether Biden and his team want to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon or simply want to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon on their watch. There’s a real difference there, and that difference is everything.
Simon Maas is the pen name of a writer living in Virginia.
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