By THE HILL : When Joe Biden was inaugurated in January, several key policy issues topped his to-do list: Rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, tick. Rejoin the planet Health Organization, tick. End the Muslim travel ban, tick. Rejoin the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) – well, actually, no tick.
Leaving the last box unticked wasn't surprising. Unlike the opposite quick-tick boxes, the Iran deal may be a risky business fraught with strong competing positions inside and out of doors Congress. Risk management was, it had been argued by Secretary of State Antony Blinken et al. within the Cabinet, a far better way forward than risk-taking. Where was the pain, or the gain, to justify quick action on a far off affairs issue? Domestic crises — the stimulus, the vaccine roll-out, the U.S.-Mexico border — commanded the highest tier of Biden’s list. Iran would need to wait. Better first to ask allies within the Middle East and Europe.
Yet, as President Carter discovered quite 40 years ago as he focussed on containing the very best rate of inflation the U.S. has seen in 50 years, hesitating on Iran policy proved disastrous. it had been a choice that defined the legacy of his presidency.
Like Biden today, Carter found himself caught during a vice between international reputation abroad and threats to his government reception . At the time, the deposed shah’s supporters, including Kissinger, clamored to make sure that the U.S. rejected Iran’s revolutionary Islamic leaders; when Europeans lined up to present their credentials to the new government in 1979, Carter’s envoys weren't among them. Pressure from regional allies like Egypt’s Sadat , raised questions on the worth of yank friendship, some extent Reagan , the Republican Party’s aspiring presidential candidate, made at every opportunity consistent with Carter’s memoirs. Risk preparedness seemed best served by a go-slow policy designed, it had been hoped, to create leverage. Lost on Carter and his deeply divided Cabinet was that decisiveness grounded in national interest and legal principles, is that the prerogative of world power — as President Trump proved in 2017 when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Indecisiveness and drift led Carter to simply accept the shah into the U.S. for medical treatment without informing the Iranian government — a choice framed in moral terms as a test of yank character and oddly like the talk around rejoining the JCPOA today. Insufficient intel meant Carter was unaware the shah’s arrival coincided with Iranian Shia’s most religious holiday of the year consistent with Michael M.J. Fischer’s, “Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution.” And when the U.S. embassy hostages were seized, U.S. inaction led to a standoff which even the Iranian student-organizers of the embassy takeover didn’t expect to last beyond 24 hours per Carter's memoirs, but which stretched to 444 days.
As Carter discovered, some policy decisions can eclipse even the foremost compelling domestic issues — and Biden is facing just such a test. Had the new president acted when he proclaimed that “America is back” and “we are committed to rejoining the Iran nuclear deal,” — Iran’s nuclear program would be winding down by now and negotiators would be drawing up plans to debate extending the deal’s ungainly sunset clauses, missile containment and regional security.
Instead, trust has frayed, and two months of drift has led to unrelieved sanctions on Iran, while none of our allies — whether in Europe, the Gulf or Israel — now quite believe Biden is committed to the deal. Certainly Iran doesn’t think so: because it ramps up nuclear output, hardline candidates for its presidential election in June point to the country’s emergence from its Trump-induced recession and a replacement 25-year affect China as offering Iran a future the West never could. Perhaps most worrying, for the primary time, Iranian leaders are indicating that the fatwa against developing nuclear weapons should be reconsidered.
Biden’s indecision has led to a hardening on each side and a pointy increase in insecurity within the Gulf. it's undercut Washington’s international standing very much like Carter’s indecision did 40 years ago. Iran undoubtedly is in breach of the terms of the nuclear deal but remains inside it. The U.S. is in greater breach for having left it there being no provisions within the United Nations resolution, which President Obama signed, for any signatory to withdraw. By failing to rejoin immediately, Biden is allowing American propensity to override law of nations when it doesn’t suit U.S. policy, to discomfort the very allies he’s currently trying to court.
Even more important, choose to not rejoin the JCPOA immediately, Biden has ignored a fundamental U.S. principle and national security interest: to contain nuclear proliferation as a responsibility of international leadership. The JCPOA is, first and foremost, a nuclear verification system. It do i thing alright , and therein it's an honest deal. It ensures the International nuclear energy Association, or IAEA, are often on the bottom at any time with no notice, verifying that Iran’s program is minimal and contained and unable to devolve into weaponization. The deal means nobody — not the U.S., the U.N., Israel, Saudi Arabia or anyone else — has got to trust Iran; the JCPOA makes trusting Iran irrelevant.
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