We got the Iran deal in 2015 from a president desperate for a foreign-policy win after the debacle of Barack Obama’s red line in Syria and the rise of ISIS in the wake of abandoning Iraq. The JCPOA may well return due to desperation for a foreign-policy win by Joe Biden after the disgrace of his abandonment of Americans in Afghanistan and the murkiness of Biden’s options for Ukraine.
The New York Times reports that a return to the JCPOA could happen within weeks — if Iran agrees to do what it has pretty much steadfastly opposed all along:
The United States and its European allies appear on the cusp of restoring the deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program, Biden administration officials said on Monday, but cautioned that it is now up to the new government in Tehran to decide whether, after months of negotiations, it is willing to dismantle much of its nuclear production equipment in return for sanctions relief.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, a senior State Department official signaled that negotiations had reached a point where political leaders needed to decide whether they would agree to key elements of an accord that would essentially return to the 2015 deal that President Donald J. Trump discarded four years ago, over the objections of many of his key advisers. Ultimately, that freed Iran to resume its nuclear production, in some cases enriching nuclear fuel to levels far closer to what is needed to make nuclear weapons.
Administration officials cautioned that it was not clear whether a final agreement would be struck, and in Iran that decision is bound to go to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And while some remain deeply skeptical that Iran would ultimately agree to the terms now being discussed, the State Department official said that “we can see a path to a deal if those decisions are made and if they are made quickly.”
Iran and Khameini have repeatedly refused to offer any concessions prior to elimination of sanctions. It’s not clear what they would get from a renewed deal, but it’s clear what we won’t get from it. Essentially, it leaves all the same issues off the table that created such resistance to it among Republicans and some Sunni states seven years ago:
Like the original deal, the new one would not limit Iran’s missile development, the senior official said. It also would not halt Tehran’s support for terrorist groups or its proxy forces, which have stirred unrest across the Middle East, as some Democrats and nearly all Republicans have demanded. …
And while American officials offered no details, a clean restoration of the old accord would mean all limits on Iran’s production of nuclear material would still expire in 2030.
So … what exactly do we get out of this? We get to pretend that the JCPOA constrained Iran, it seems:
If the negotiations are unsuccessful, “the future is not hard to divine,” the State Department official said. “Obviously, Iran’s nuclear program … would not be constrained” and could continue “at an alarming pace.” The United States and its partners would “have to fortify our response — economically, diplomatically and otherwise.”
The JCPOA didn’t constrain Iran, and in fact allowed Tehran to shield its development sites from IAEA inspectors. Everyone knew that Iran had moved its nuclear-weapons development to sites like Natanz and other restricted sites to keep inspectors from determining their compliance with the JCPOA. Four years ago, Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a detailed assessment of all of Iran’s cheating on the deal, to little avail. When it became clear that Joe Biden could succeed Donald Trump, Israel conducted a series of operations to sabotage their progress on nuclear weapons to prevent a breakout development ahead of an expected return to JCPOA’s status quo ante.
Biden’s desperation doesn’t portend any better outcomes this time around. Israel had better prepare accordingly.