Iran to Biden: You first

What a relief that we now have someone “moderate” and reasonable in the White House to take care of our various foreign policy crises. That’s particularly true of the mess in Iran. Joe Biden promised to bring the United States back to the table with the Iranian regime and bring them into compliance with the previous deal regarding their nuclear weapons program. One small problem has cropped up with that plan already, sadly. The Biden administration had opened the door for some informal, direct talks between U.S. and Iranian diplomats to get the ball rolling, but this weekend Iran said there weren’t going to be any talks until the sanctions on them were lifted. Now it’s your move, Mr. President. (CNBC)

Iran rejected on Sunday an invitation from global powers who signed the 2015 nuclear deal to discuss the regime’s potential return to the negotiating table, a significant setback in the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the agreement.

“Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries, which was proposed by the EU foreign policy chief,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to Tehran’s state-run media.

The White House said on Sunday that the Biden administration was disappointed with Iran’s decision to skip the informal meeting with the U.S. and the other signatories of the 2015 pact ⁠— France, Germany, the U.K., Russia and China.

To be clear, the Iranians were no fans of Donald Trump. He pulled us out of that disaster of a deal and insisted that no sanctions relief would be coming until Iran demonstrated real progress in dismantling portions of their nuclear program. It’s pretty much the same approach that Trump took with North Korea, though he was far more generous in his verbal exchanges with Kim Jong-un. Joe Biden had already said (perhaps more politely), that he would need to see Iran coming back into compliance before sanctions relief would be on the table.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but how is the current policy towards Iran any different than what Trump was doing? Sure, there’s probably going to be a bit less harsh rhetoric, but Iran has basically just told us to go pound sand until the sanctions are lifted.

Even if Iran does eventually agree to come back to the table for the Five Plus One negotiations, Joe Biden wants to keep the same players involved, including Russia and China. That’s a rather curious choice when you consider that both of those nations have actively worked to ignore, if not thwart sanctions on Iran. As recently as 2019, when new U.S. sanctions on Iran were announced, Russia turned around and stated they would simply ignore them. Just last year, China was shooting down efforts to sanction Iran in the UN, even as those two nations announced progress on a “strategic partnership” to protect the Iranian regime. Are those really the two countries Biden plans to count on for bringing more pressure to bring Iran back to the table?

Iran has long since entered into some sort of unofficial cabal with Russia, China, and North Korea. If we’re not careful, Turkey will be joining them sooner or later. And much the same as with North Korea, sanctions are never going to be as fully effective as we might wish as long as some of the bigger players like Russia and China are helping Iran get around them. So what’s the answer to this puzzle outside of what would likely be a disastrous, direct military intervention against Tehran’s nuclear facilities? Don’t ask me. The entire situation is a mess. But, for the umpteenth time, that mess is on Joe Biden’s plate now. He wanted the job and he needs to tell us how he plans to fix it.