A Redux of a Very Bad Deal

The Biden administration seeks to reinstate the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and begins next week in Vienna, Austria to negotiate that resurrection through intermediaries, according to the New York Times.  That’s not good news for the Middle East and America.  However, the Chinese will clearly benefit, thanks to the communist regime’s growing leverage with the Islamic Republic.

The 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was negotiated by then-secretary of State John Kerry, and widely viewed as President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement.  The Iranian leadership agreed to restrictions to and inspections of their nuclear program evidently intended to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon in exchange for lifting crippling sanctions.

President Obama sidestepped domestic opposition to the deal by making the agreement an executive action rather than seeking ratification of a treaty subject to a Republican-controlled Senate and a certain death.  Meanwhile, Obama sweetened the deal for the Persian mullahs by shipping via an unmarked aircraft that landed in Tehran at midnight $1.8 billion in cash followed up by releasing $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets.

Then in 2016 Obama’s legacy achievement became the object of one of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s primary campaign promises, which he labeled a “rotten” agreement.  In May 2018 President Trump made good on his promise to scrap the Iran nuclear deal which he characterized as built on a foundation of lies.

“We cannot prevent an Iranian bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” President Trump argued at the time. “Therefore, I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.”

What Trump meant by the deal’s “rotten structure” included Tehran’s continued sponsorship of terrorism, its aggressive ballistic missile program, and the regime’s unflagging efforts to build a nuclear weapons program albeit while denying inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog. 

Of course, Obama’s use of executive action in 2015 to join the Iran nuclear deal rather than via a Senate approved treaty made President Trump’s decision to vacate the agreement much easier. Trump did so with the stroke of his pen and with sound justification.

President Trump’s decision had plenty of support, especially from Israel. A month prior to Trump’s withdrawal announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on live television: “Tonight, we’re going to show you something that the world has never seen before.  Tonight, we are going to reveal new and conclusive proof of the secret nuclear weapons program that Iran has been hiding for years from the international community in its secret atomic archive.” 

That evening the prime minister unveiled compelling proof of Iran’s long-denied nuclear program.  Specifically, Netanyahu profiled evidence of five key elements of Iran’s Project Amad, unveiled by the regime’s “secret atomic archive”: designing nuclear weapons; developing nuclear cores; building nuclear implosion systems; preparing nuclear tests; and integrating nuclear weapons on missiles.

Another aspect of the JCPOA’s “rotten structure” is the absence in the agreement of the regime’s guided-missile program.  Many of Iran’s missiles are large enough to carry nuclear payloads, a fact confirmed by the United Nations Security Council which warned the regime “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” Of course, that was a well-founded concern, according to the IAEA, which claimed Iran had a “coordinated” program to develop a nuclear weapon through the end of 2003 which included a payload with a nuclear weapon using its Shahab-3 ballistic missile.

Untethered to the JCPOA’s “decaying and rotten structure” was also the absence of Iran’s signature foreign policy tool, terrorism.  Since the genesis of the 1979 Islamic Revolution the regime richly earned the title as the “world’s leading sponsor of terrorism,” a label bestowed on Iran by the Department of State.  For decades now the regime used its paramilitary Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to arm, train, and support insurgent and militia groups across the region from Afghanistan to Yemen and the Palestinian territories.

Thus, Iran’s triad of malevolent threats -- terrorism, missiles, and nuclear weapons program -- provided ample justification for President Trump’s 2018 decision to end America’s role in the JCPOA and reinstate tough sanctions.  However, because elections have consequences, the U.S. is back at the negotiating table in Vienna across from Iranian mullahs.  This time things are different.

President Biden comes to these negotiations already promising to reinstate the 2015 agreement.  Count on the mullahs taking advantage of Biden’s promise by ratcheting up tensions across the Mideast to leverage more benefits.

Evidently, according to the New York Times, once Biden brings Iran into JCPOA compliance he intends to constrain Tehran’s missile programs and its support for terrorists.  Unfortunately, Iran has a history of tough negotiating and always lying.  That’s why Biden’s plan is doomed much like when they previously fooled Obama while gleefully accepting a plane loaded with cash and $150 billion freed assets, and then delivered nothing but trouble.

Complicating Biden’s ambition is the new role played by America’s primary global adversary, communist China.  A week ago, Beijing signed a 25-year “Comprehensive Strategic Agreement” with Iran.  That agreement is good news for the Islamic Republic because it grants Tehran new strategic infrastructure, like the Chabahar port and investments in sectors including oil, gas, and petrochemicals.  Further, it guarantees a tenfold increase in trade with China over the next decade, which is great news for a regime desperately seeking relief from crippling U.S. sanctions. 

Of course, Iran is being used by Beijing as a platform to expand communist influence across the Mideast and also acts as a stick in the eye to the Biden administration.  After all, China views Iran as critical for expanding its Belt and Road Initiative in the region and will use its increased leverage to manipulate global energy markets and control the region’s geopolitical alignment, much to America’s disadvantage.

Meanwhile, at home, Biden’s team promises to go slow with Iran thanks to bipartisan resistance in the Senate.  There are those in that chamber that oppose rapprochement with Iran such as 43 senators who signed a letter calling on the Biden administration to expand the scope of any agreement to include its non-nuclear threats (missiles and terrorism), something the mullahs will resist.

So, where does that leave us?

Biden’s efforts to restart the nuclear deal with Iran is fraught with unintended consequences.  Our best interests are served by leaving the deal in ashes.  However, the likely outcome of Biden’s diplomacy is to fuel the Middle Kingdom’s larger role in the Mideast, which won’t end well for peace, our allies like Israel, global energy markets, and certainly not for American interests much less competition with China.

Mr. Maginnis is a retired US Army officer and the author of Alliance of Evil: Russia, China, the United States and a New Cold War.  His new book, Give Me Liberty, Not Marxism, comes out this spring and chronicles the Marxist threat and how China seeks to radically transform America. 

Image: Tasnim News Agency 

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