He had written that “if Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations,” and lift the sanctions on Iran that Trump imposed.
The Iranians are clearly hoping for that. The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said on Nov. 17 that a return to full implementation by the United States and Iran can be “done automatically” and “needs no negotiations.”
The nuclear deal — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.) — was signed in 2015. Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May 2018, reimposing crippling oil sanctions on Iran, claiming it was a bad deal to begin with and that Iran was cheating — which was not the view of our European allies or international inspectors.
The view of Biden and his national security team is that once the deal is restored by both sides, there will have to be, in very short order, a round of negotiations to seek to lengthen the duration of the restrictions on Iran’s production of fissile material that could be used to make a bomb — originally 15 years — as well as to address Iran’s malign regional activities, through its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Ideally, the Biden team would like to see that follow-on negotiation include not only the original signatories to the deal — Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union — but also Iran’s Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Earlier this week, I wrote a column arguing that it would be unwise for the United States to give up the leverage of the Trump-imposed oil sanctions just to resume the nuclear deal where it left off. We should use that leverage to also get Iran to curb its exports of precision-guided missiles to its allies in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, where they threaten Israel and several Arab states. I still believe that.
Biden’s team is aware of that argument, and does not think it is crazy — but for now they insist that America’s overwhelming national interest is to get Iran’s nuclear program back under control and fully inspected. In their view, Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon poses a direct national security threat to the United States and to the global nuclear weapons control regime, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.