With Iran, Biden can do better than Obama did

Biden’s immediate decision to back off from Trump’s “policy of maximum pressure” on Iran and his promise to reengage with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) has emboldened Iran. Instead of causing Iran to retreat from its regional aggression or to lessen its harsh policies against its own citizens, Iran is pushing harder in both areas. It clearly sees the United States – and, specifically, Biden – as weak.

Just in the last two months, these are some of the negative developments regarding Iran:

--Within a month of entering office, Biden withdrew Trump’s claim that Iran’s violating provisions of the JCPOA tracked the snapback mechanism in the JCPOA and mandated that the UN re-impose sanctions on Iran. Almost immediately, Iranian-funded terrorism, which had been mostly dormant during the Trump administration, flared up again. On January 29, a bomb exploded 50 meters away from the Israeli embassy in New Delhi. Counter-terrorism experts blamed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”) for that explosion.

-- The Biden administration also lifted travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats working at United Nations in New York City. Then, the Iranian regime attacked the U.S. base in Erbil, Iraq.

-- On March 6, Iran announced that the United States had agreed to release $ 3 billion of frozen Iranian funds in Iraq, South Korea, and Oman. One day later, Iranian-funded Houthis mounted a drone and missile attack against a large Aramco oil port and the surrounding residential area. The day after that, oil prices jumped 2.11 % and reached $70.82 a barrel, the highest level since May 2019.

Contrary to claims from those who want to appease Iran, Trump’s sanctions over the last three years, harmed primarily harmed the regime’s agents, severely weakening their ability to funds its proxy forces. This weakness led to the possibility of popular uprisings and protests against the mullahs. As proof one of the slogans chanted by Iranians in the streets was, “Our enemy is right here. They are lying by saying it is America!”

In addition to violence abroad and at home, Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, followed Biden’s giveaways by threatening to increase Iran’s uranium enrichment to 60%. The Iranian parliament then passed a bill to suspended Tehran's cooperation regarding the Additional Protocol, blocking the IAEA from inspections. The parliament also rejected an interim agreement reached between President Hassan Rouhani and the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Still, all is not lost. The Biden administration can still get a better agreement than Obama did in 2015. This is because Trump’s policies left the Iranian regime in greater disunity and weaker, and Iranian society more rebellious, than ever before.

So far, despite lifting Trump’s sanctions, the administration has not prepared a “comprehensive” approach to threats from Iran. On March 9, a bipartisan group of House members (70 Democrat and 70 Republican) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken  urging the Biden administration to take a “comprehensive” approach to threats posed by Iran they emphasized that:

As the Biden administration considers negotiations with Iran, we write to express our bipartisan and shared view that we must seek an agreement or set of agreements with Iran that are comprehensive in nature to address the full range of threats that Iran poses to the region.


As Democrats and Republicans from across the political spectrum, we are united in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of illicit Iranian behavior. There is consensus within Congress that allowing one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism to obtain nuclear weapons is an unacceptable risk.

Another limitation on Khamenei is Iran’s dire economic situation and the internal problems within the regime, exacerbated by an upcoming election so that Khamenei can install his preferred candidate in the president’s office. Khamenei is confident that Biden’s policies will protect him. His whole focus is on preventing social upheaval and public uprisings at home. That makes him weak and is something that Biden, if wise, would use in negotiations.

Hassan Mahmoudi is a Europe-based social analyst, researcher, independent observer, and commentator of Middle Eastern and Iranian Politics. He tweets under @hassan_mahmou1.   

IMAGE: Ayatollah Khamenei. YouTube screengrab.

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