Up until now, Iran has essentially been copying from the playbook of North Korea when it comes to dealing with the Biden administration. They say that they’re willing to return to the table and restart negotiations over Obama’s Iran deal, but only if the United States lifts at least some of the heavy sanctions imposed upon them first. As you will recall, Donald Trump wanted nothing to do with that offer and pulled us out of the deal entirely, hitting the Iranians with even more sanctions. Joe Biden has been resistant to the Iranian’s demands thus far, but that may have changed in the past few days. The Associated Press is reporting that the United States and Iran are preparing to embark on some “indirect talks” through third-party representatives. So what brought about this change of heart on the part of Tehran?
Efforts to bring the United States back into the 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program stepped up a gear Tuesday as Iran and the five world powers still in the accord were meeting in Vienna while the U.S. is due to start indirect talks with Tehran.
Friday’s announcement that Washington and Tehran would begin indirect talks through intermediaries was one of the first signs of tangible progress in efforts to return both nations to the terms of the accord, which restricted Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and international sanctions.
Then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. unilaterally out of the accord in 2018, opting for what he called a maximum pressure campaign of stepped-up U.S. sanctions.
The entire idea of “indirect talks” has always struck me as rather pointless and essentially childish. It just rings of schoolyard drama, with Billy saying he’s not talking to Susie, and Susie telling Becky to tell Billie that’s she’s not talking to him either. But I suppose most world leaders believe that they have to keep up these pretenses to save face. In a more adult setting, the representatives from each nation would just sit down face-to-face and see if there is an accord that can be reached.
Getting back to the question I raised above, has something changed recently leading to Iran being willing to talk to us in any fashion? The first thought that crossed my mind when seeing this headline was to wonder if Biden has already made an offer through back channels to lift some of the sanctions. That would seem like a foolish move, particularly when you consider how often Iran has flagrantly violated previous agreements, going so far as to pull IAEA cameras out of their nuclear facilities. But it might not be entirely crazy to think this may have happened. We’ve already heard rumors that some of Iran’s assets in Iraqui banks have been unfrozen.
The other possibility is that the Iranians have given up on waiting for the White House to agree to lift some of the sanctions and are just launching a fishing expedition to see what might be on the table. After all, there really isn’t going to be a meaningful deal without the United States buying in on it. The Russians and Chinese are part of the Five Plus One team working on the deal and they’re already violating the sanctions on a regular basis. Iran doesn’t have much to gain unless they get the United States to play along.
The latter possibility is certainly more desirable than the former. Iran only respects strength (to the extent that they respect anything) and they will always take advantage of perceived weakness. But unless we want to get used to the idea of Iran fully joining the nuclear weapons club alongside North Korea, some sort of solution is going to have to be found.