As Russia eats up headlines, don't forget about Iran
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has occupied all of the media's attention, leaving several other international priorities of the Biden administration to continue without much scrutiny. One of these is the effort to revive a version of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.
From the outside, it would appear that Iran holds most of the cards when it comes to a new nuclear deal. Even though deadlines for reaching a new accord have come and gone, the U.S. has granted extensions of sanctions waivers and kept the negotiations alive. Whether this is driven by a dire need for a foreign policy victory or a sense that a new agreement is within reach remains an open question.
As the director of the Center to Advance Security in America, I am following the issue closely. My organization is seeking records to help the public better understand whether a new deal is in America's interest and what this means for exposing the priorities of the current administration. On its face, the U.S. government's position is that the deal is the best chance we have to stop Iran from joining the nuclear club. But recent foreign policy debacles have raised concerns over the genuineness of this claim.
The most notable defeat is the embarrassing withdrawal from Afghanistan despite internal analysis indicating that senior decision-makers were aware of the potential for disastrous consequences from their planned actions, which my organization is also looking into. History may be repeating itself in the Iran nuclear deal. For instance, it recently came out that Richard Nephew and two other American negotiators resigned from the negotiations because they wanted a tougher posture.
Senior diplomats also appear to believe that the success of any deal relies on partnering with the Russians. While this may be true, it nevertheless presents an odd public posture while NATO and President Biden, in particular, are condemning Putin and the Russian government. In the midst of pressure to come up with a foreign policy victory, the public is right to ask whether advancing American interests in the Ukraine war has made the pursuit of a deal with Iran — a close Russian ally — a bad deal for America.
Is there more to this deal than meets the eye? Is it driven by a prisoner swap? It might be even more tangential. Climate change is one of the express priorities of the Biden administration, with some of the most prominent and influential voices in the White House focused on achieving these policy goals. To this point, Tehran recently said it will consider ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement if a new nuclear deal is signed. Could it be that, in the midst of a Russian invasion into Ukraine, the U.S. is continuing to prioritize negotiations with a close Russian ally and relying on Russian participation, for the purpose of adding another signer to the Paris Climate Accord?
Similar to the U.S. government's confusing approach to China, the continued effort to strike a deal with a hostile nation that poses a real danger to our closest ally in the region requires watchdog organizations such as CASA to ask the hard questions about our priorities. As we learn more, we will report back.