With the US and Iran now engaged in a diplomatic process, strong constituencies in Washington are advocating for or against restoring mutual adherence to the 2015 nuclear accord between the P5+1 and Iran. Nuclear non-proliferation experts naturally want to codify reliable limits on Iran’s nuclear activities, and US diplomats continue to seek a path that could lead to restored relations with a country of more than 80 million people and a rich civilizational heritage. No one, in the Middle East or elsewhere, would be immune to the risks from escalating US hostilities with Iran.
At the same time, a substantial contingent opposes relieving sanctions pressure absent new and extended restraints on Iran’s threatening activities, nuclear and non-nuclear. Their concerns are shared by Israel and many Arab states living day-to-day with the revolutionary misbehavior of their troublesome neighbor. The President and his senior lieutenants have acknowledged the need for a “longer and stronger” nuclear agreement as well as further initiatives to address Iran’s non-nuclear provocations. There is no obvious or easy option for the Biden Administration in dealing with Iran.
Despite commentaries warning against delay, the Administration’s cautious early approach, acknowledging each constituency’s valid concerns without becoming captive to either’s prescription, has strengthened Biden’s hand with Iran. That is because Iran’s many and varied acts of aggression since 2016, when the JCPOA came into force, have crystallized western recognition that there is much more to the Iran threat than the shrinking breakout time to field a nuclear weapon. The atmospherics of negotiations have also changed. No longer can US officials and politicians look at a nuclear arrangement as a potential springboard to détente, rapprochement, and a more normal bilateral relationship. Iran has, through its hostile acts, dashed such hopes and forfeited the ability to market a new agreement as anything more than a transaction, wholly based on verification rather than trust.
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