A series of back-and-forth retaliatory moves and antagonizing statements between Washington and Tehran are putting the Biden administration’s plans for a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal into greater peril by the day, CNBC writes.
“You can’t act with impunity. Be careful,” President Joe Biden told reporters Friday, describing his message to Iran after he ordered airstrikes against buildings in eastern Syria that the Pentagon says were being used by Iranian-backed militia.
The strikes were in retaliation for a Feb. 15 attack that saw rockets hit Erbil International Airport in Iraq, which houses coalition military forces. The attack, which Western and Iraqi officials attribute to Iranian-backed militia forces, killed one contractor with the U.S.-led coalition and injured several others, including an American service member. Iran rejects accusations of its involvement.
None of this bodes well for what the Biden administration considers a foreign policy priority: a return to the Iranian nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, that was penned under the Obama administration with several world powers and lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program.
The deal has all but collapsed since the Trump administration unilaterally ditched it in 2018 and re-imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran that have crippled its economy.
Whether or when the deal can be revived is a critical question for the Biden team’s foreign policy and legacy in the Middle East. Former U.S. diplomat Joseph Westphal, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia during Obama’s second term, doesn’t see it happening in the near or even medium term.
“I don’t think we’ll see a deal” this year, Westphal told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Monday. “I think we may see the start of negotiations to get to a deal. The end of the year is coming fast. And I think these things take a lot of time.”
Earlier in February, the Biden team took a major step in offering to start informal negotiations with Tehran, signaling the first U.S. diplomatic outreach in more than four years. Iran’s leadership over the weekend rejected the invitation.
The attempt at some sort of rapprochement is a tricky one for Biden. He faces substantial domestic opposition on the Iran deal and doesn’t want to appear “soft” on the country’s regime, especially at a time when Iran is ramping up its uranium enrichment and stockpiling in violation of the deal, moves that bring it closer to bomb-making capability.
Tehran insists that this is in response to U.S. sanctions, and that its actions can be reversed if the sanctions are lifted first; Biden, meanwhile, says he’ll only lift the economic penalties if Tehran walks back its violations. So the two are at an impasse.