The new American Secretary of State Antony Blinken seems never to miss an opportunity these days to emphasize that while the Biden administration will be trying to rejuvenate the Iran nuclear deal and bring the U.S. back into it, it will be hard-nosed about it. Iran will have to undertake to abide by all of its responsibilities as laid out in the 2015 deal, and then some.
Interestingly, this stance seems to be a tacit – if belated – approval of President Trump’s decision to take the U.S. out of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, over the same issues the Biden administration has now embraced for future negotiations. Somewhat encouraging, as far as it goes.
Unfortunately, President Biden has also declared that the U.S. will end much of its offensive military support for Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen who are acting as surrogates for Iran in its effort to spread its influence throughout the Gulf region.
Plainly, this is something that signals to Iran before the negotiations start that Biden may be all too willing to make things easier for it. Biden and company maintain that their intent is to force everyone to the negotiating table. But we don’t see how weakening their Saudi adversaries could be expected to bring the Houthis to the table. And this development doesn’t augur well for the negotiations with Iran either.
Apparently, Iran will be called upon to agree to more rigorous and wider-ranging inspections, restrictions on its ballistic missiles development program – which was ignored the first time around – and a significant extension of the duration of the deal now set to expire in 2028.
Also made clear is that the economic sanctions President Trump re-imposed on Iran when he ended U.S. participation in the deal will not be lifted until Iran renegotiates and starts complying with the terms of the revised deal. For its part, Iran is already insisting that the sanctions have to be lifted before it will sit for a renegotiation.
As a result of the U.S. pulling the rug out from under the Saudis despite the continuation of Iranian support for the Houthis, the Houthis will likely prevail in their war against the Yemeni government. The war there has rightly been called a humanitarian catastrophe with the Houthi committing atrocities typical of the most notorious terrorists groups around the world – of which it certainly is one.
In truth, the Saudis have not been much better actors in this regard given their routine bombing of civilian areas. But the world is what it is and Iran’s possible development of a nuclear arsenal presents an existential threat to the rest of the world. If you don’t believe that to be true, just ask the Iranians themselves about what they have in mind for the U.S. and Israel, for starters, and other nations that oppose them up the road.
Trump figured it out and was unrelenting in the pressure he put on Iran. This was no warmongering. It was a reflection of the fact that the Iran nuclear deal came about as a way to avoid military action against Iran by an implacable Western world unwilling to accept a nuclear Iran. Iran was actually a supplicant wishing to avoid devastation, yet the Obama/Kerry team treated Iran as a negotiating equal, which bollixed everything and resulted in Iran blunting any real inspection regime and achieving a deal of relatively short duration. It was a sight to behold – the wanton squander of the enormous leverage our side enjoyed.
The U.S. shift in Yemen sent another signal of tremendous import. The Abraham Accords, which brought about a tectonic shift in the Middle East, was premised on the belief among the nations that came on board and those that are reportedly planning to – like Saudi Arabia – that economic and diplomatic cooperation with Israel is crucial to the deterrence of the increasingly predatory Iran. Key to that perception, though, is the support of the United States. The Biden move against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, to the obvious benefit to Iran’s wish list, is therefore counterintuitive and could feed the perception that opposing Iran is a fool’s errand.
Hopefully, as time goes on, the Biden team will recognize that at this point in time, support for Saudi Arabia’s efforts to thwart the rapacious Iran is a matter of utmost urgency, warts and all.