The Geopolitical Implications of The Biden Administration’s Stance on Iran

Written by Anjana Sathy, Sonalika Goswami and Vaidehi Meharia

Research Associates at Law & Order

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.


Introduction


The nuclear non-proliferation regime is one that is aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. In a world where the strength of a nation’s nuclear arsenal determines its international standing, the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) boasts near-universal membership. In this regard, when nations are found to be in noncompliance with the Treaty, their activities are reported to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

One such nation which was brought under the radar of the UNSC in 2006 is Iran, which faced a series of economic sanctions, ultimately culminating in the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015.

The deal brought together some of the most powerful nations in the geopolitical framework today. Iran was actively breaching several terms of the Deal by resuming its nuclear enrichment programme in Fordo and increasing its stockpile of low enriched Uranium beyond the stipulated amount. The JCPOA, consisting of Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, and Germany reinforced the effectiveness of the nuclear non-proliferation regime which the NPT had sought to establish originally by compelling Iran to do away with much of its nuclear programme and making way for extensive inspections into its nuclear activities. (Kaplow & Gibbons, 2015).


The deal was symbolic of a dynamic that may affect how states approach future proliferation conflicts and the potential for resolving them diplomatically. However, the withdrawal of the United States from the Deal in January 2018 caused havoc especially in the surrounding countries of the Middle East who were anxious at the prospect of Iran rebuilding its nuclear arsenal.

The subsequent re-imposition of American sanctions on Iran not only heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran further but also largely impacted the signatories of the deal.

With a new administration in the White House, which has already spoken at length about re-negotiating the Deal with Iran, some parts of the Middle East, Europe and China hope for some stability in the region by reinstating the international agreement. President Joe Biden, who is deeply critical of the Trump Administration’s policy towards Iran, has pledged to negotiate the deal on the condition that Iran falls back on the original terms of the Deal. At the same time, Iran has also expressed its unwillingness to expand the accord any further.

The global community is therefore facing great uncertainty following the election of Joe Biden to the White House. While the European signatories of the Deal have welcomed President Biden’s effort in maintaining a diplomatic dialogue with Iran, they are also apprehensive of the degree to which Iran is going to resist the renegotiation of the Agreement. The Middle Eastern stance on the matter, on the other hand, paints a different picture. Iran’s neighbours, like Saudi Arabia, are hoping for a seat at the negotiation table when the United Stated facilitates the Deal’s re-negotiation. The balance of power in the region is rather delicate, and every nation will try to further its own aims through this process. Similarly, while both China and Russia are hoping for a US return to the Agreement, their motivation for the same is rather different.


Consequently, the paper seeks to analyze these conflicting goals and motivations. It will look at the reasons behind the stances that these countries and regions have adopted towards the Nuclear Deal and also aims at probing into the significant impact of the new American administration’s stance towards the same.

Background


The United States' allies have always remained faithful, at least in terms of not breaking rank with the US regarding geopolitical concerns. Despite the fact that the Deal had encountered numerous concerns even during the Obama administration, their response to the United States’ withdrawal from the deal was unexpected as they publicly urged the Trump administration to retain the deal. The geopolitical impact was felt across different regions, with European Union, Middle Eastern and Asian countries having a lot to say in the matter and countries like France and the United Kingdom publicly urging the United States to honour the Deal (Beauchamp, 2018).


Even though the United States claimed that the decision to withdraw was prompted by Iran’s past misdemeanours and violations of the agreement (Mulligan, 2018), there exists no evidence of the same. For Iran, Washington pulling out of the Deal meant that Trump would deny waivers on economic sanctions which formed an integral part of the bargain (Harkov, 2018).


European Union, which has been engaged in ensuring that the restraints against Iran are held in place with or without the support of the United States, is no longer in a position to give European companies exemptions to engage in business with Iran.

Faced with the threat of getting penalised by the US for doing business with Iran, the European Union is compelled to cease all economic activities and revoke licenses that require engagement with Iran (European Parliament, 2020).

The EU, China, and Russia as an alliance have had a major role to play in not only keeping the deal afloat but also in ensuring that Iran remains a positive part of the Agreement. While Europe might be required to cut down on its economic incentives for Iran and discontinue its investments in Iran due to its close ties with the United States, China can be reasonably expected to complement any decline in European investment (Srivastava, 2018). Moreover, with the United States no longer being a part of the Deal and its imposition of heavy economic sanctions on Tehran, Iran has openly flouted the terms of the Deal, especially in the absence of Europe’s continued support economically and politically (Vick, 2018).


Therefore, not only is the future of the Deal precariously placed, but countries around the world are also suffering due to the sanctions that the Trump Administration imposed on Iran.


Implications like instability in the middle east, a burgeoning arms race and international security issues are all situated on the horizon, as a result of such sanctions and issues surrounding the nuclear deal.

Most nations have placed tremendous value on the United States as a powerful economic and political ally. By standing in support of Iran, they risk jeopardising the beneficial relationship they have with the United States. Furthermore, Iran now openly pursuing its nuclear programme, is a matter of great concern, especially for those in the middle east. Nations fear an escalation of tensions and political friction between the United States, and the other existing players, especially Europe and China.


The Biden Factor


Former President Donald Trump’s Iran policy was a significant failure, applying maximum pressure to minimal benefit (Nasr, 2021).


Not only did the withdrawal from the Deal not contain Iran, but it also further aggravated the leaders in Tehran and emboldened them to expand their nuclear activities.

This gave way to further potential for the outbreak of direct conflict between Washington and Tehran. To reverse the damage done by the Trump administration is thus a mountainous task, for little trust remains between the two nations (Nasr, 2021).


The newly elected President Joe Biden is now faced with one of the most daunting tasks of restoring the 2015 nuclear deal and getting the United States and Iran back on speaking terms (Parsi, 2020). Five years ago, nearly every Republican in the Congress and even some leading Democrats, opposed the Iran Deal because they felt that the Agreement set expiration dates on the key restrictions, ruled out ‘on-demand inspections and even allowed Iran to maintain its nuclear enrichment capabilities (Goldberg & Dubowitz, 2021). In accordance with these flaws, the Biden administration emphasised the goal to build on the 2015 deal with a new agreement to ‘tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints.’ President Biden also hinted at confronting Iran’s human rights record and the destabilising effect that its activities have on the American allies in the region (Goldberg & Dubowitz, 2021).


He had indicated during the days of his election campaign that the United States would take strict actions against Iran for its human rights abuse, launching ballistic missiles and is covert support for terrorism (Lake, 2021).

The Biden administration has proposed for Iran and the United States to return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. However, there exists a lack of initiative on both sides to make the first move to achieve that goal (BBC, 2021).


While the United States has now expressed intent to re-join the deal, Iran refuses to return to full compliance with the agreement unless all the sanctions imposed by the United States are lifted.

Furthermore, Iran has also ruled out the possibility of initiating any informal meeting with the United States and the European Union to revive the Deal, considering the latter’s recent moves (Norman, 2021). Iran’s stance remains that the Biden administration has not only not abandoned Trump’s policies regarding sanctions but has also not announced any intention to fulfil its responsibilities under the United Nations Resolution 2231 [1], regarding its inspection procedure and removal of sanctions against Iran (Wintour, 2021).


This has also been accompanied by the Americans’ perception regarding the viability of the Iran Nuclear Deal in the first place. The widespread domestic opposition that Biden is faced with — led by powerful Democratic and Republican lawmakers — has urged Biden to work with key allies, including the critics of the nuclear pact such as Israel and the Gulf states (Lynch, 2021).


This would allow for the formulation of a “grand bargain” that not only constrains Iran’s prospects for acquiring a nuclear bomb but also checks its ability to destabilise the region and advance its ballistic missile problem (Lynch, 2021).

Thus, while Iran continues to claim that there exists no legitimate reason to re-negotiate any of the terms of the Agreement (which includes the United States’ commitments to lift the economic sanctions on Iran), the Biden Administration is currently pushing for renegotiation talks regarding the American sanctions and Iran’s positive, good-faith measures to ensure that any future steps in that regard would be acceptable to all parties (Wintour, 2021).


While on the one hand, Iran’s rulers are well aware of the urgency to strengthen the economy, domestically, they are also under tremendous pressure to stand up to the United States in light of the crippling economic sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration along with the killing of General Qasem Soleimani in 2020. Iran had adopted ‘strategic patience’ in response to Trump’s ‘maximum pressure.’ However, the longer Biden waits for Iran to make the first move, Tehran will get more compelled to use regional tensions and their country’s nuclear programme to pressure the United States (Nasr, 2021).


While Iran’s nuclear programme in itself is the primary threat to the United States, it is not the only one. Its nuclear activities and regional policies are parts of a single strategy that aims to turn Iranian weakness into strength and paralyse stronger foes (Singh, 2021). For the United States, even attempting to negotiate a “grand bargain” with Iran could risk inadvertently bolstering Iranian prestige by treating it as an ally. The Biden Administration still has myriad policy tools at its disposal beyond bilateral talks with Iran (Singh, 2021). The complex web of American sanctions imposed on Iran over the past two years gives Biden plenty of possible leverage (Adams, 2020).


If this leverage is wielded in concert, it may hold greater promise than any attempt at a grand bargain would.

In light of these developments and no signs of easing of tensions between Iran and the United States, the various stakeholders of the Deal and the regional players in the Middle East become especially important. Not only has Iran met the nuclear limits evinced in the Agreement but has actually enriched itself beyond the terms of the Deal (Wintour, 2021). It has drawn attention from all sides with its ever-increasing nuclear arsenal emerging as a significant concern for not only the signatories of the Deal but also regional players such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel.


The European Union


The disagreement over Iran came at a time when the bilateral relations between the European signatories of the Deal and the United States were already strained by other disputes such as trade tariffs and US complaints about Europe’s low defence spending (Schwammenthal, 2018). For Europe, the Iran Nuclear Deal was not only a significant diplomatic achievement but the best way to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Thus, the American withdrawal from the Deal directly collided with the European Union consensus on the matter.


The disagreement over the Deal is not just associated with strained transatlantic relations. The underlying issue further entails a bigger question – how can the West deal with the revolutionary regime in Tehran which poses one of the most urgent national security challenges to them? (Schwammenthal, 2018). When Iran’s nuclear ambitions, aggression in the region and support for terrorism call for unprecedented transatlantic unity, the West stands divided ever since President Trump withdrew from the Deal (Schwammenthal, 2018). The hope was that the JCPOA would also pave the way for dealing with other issues over which the European Union and the United States were at loggerheads with Iran. Instead, with the US withdrawal from the deal, and the subsequent imposition of economic sanctions on Iran, the primary focus has shifted to saving the Deal itself and the alliance, fracturing the West even further (European Parliament, 2020).


Europe hoped for a change in the American stance on the issue when Joe Biden got elected as President of the United States. After Biden’s inauguration, the Europeans had expected that if the former could keep a raft of the additional measure Trump had levied to maintain some leverage over Iran, a plan to revive the landmark 2015 Deal could be formulated (Lynch, 2021). The advice of the Europeans to the United States was to do it quickly and immediately for Iran had indicated that it would return to the Deal the moment the United States re-entered the Agreement (Lynch, 2021).


However, the confusion and uncertainty arose when the Biden Administration insisted that Iran would have to take the first step by ‘reversing a set of nuclear activities’ that it had restarted in May 2019. While President Biden had indicated that he would be moving rather fast on the Nuclear Deal during the days of his Presidential Campaign, the European signatories of the Deal were told after the President’s inauguration that the United States would not make any unilateral gestures towards Iran (Lynch, 2021).


This delay, caution, and inaction have raised concerns among European diplomats that after they struggled to save the Deal from Trump’s attempts to kill it, the Biden administration might be in fact, risking the future of the Deal itself (Lynch, 2021).

Furthermore, with the American withdrawal from the Deal, the relation between European Union and Iran got negatively impacted. In recent months, Washington has hampered the European attempts to rebuild confidence between Iran and the West by lifting sanctions on humanitarian goods and releasing Iranian funds in the foreign banks. For Europe, easing tensions with Iran at this juncture is vital since the JCPOA offered Tehran and the European Union a prospect of an effortless trade with each other.


The interwoven nature of EU-US economic ties has rendered attempts to uphold, let alone expand, trade with Iran very difficult (European Parliament, 2020). While trade forms a vital aspect of the JCPOA’s reciprocal mechanism, the European business community cares more for the larger American market than Iran’s. Moreover, the fear of fines which the United States government may impose over Iran, for conducting, what in Europe, is a perfectly legitimate business with Iran. Thus, the European Union and the European signatories of the Agreement namely, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, consider it vital that the United States returns to the table to at least fall back upon the original terms of the Deal, if not succeed in renegotiating the terms of the Agreement with Iran.


Russia


The Russian Federation had little to lose, unlike several European businesses that have faced significant restrictions in trading and conducting business in Tehran.


While Russian businesses also value their relations with the United States economy more, Moscow has been more strategic with its attitude towards Iran since the US withdrawal in 2018 (European Parliament, 2020).

This is primarily because when the Deal was first announced in 2015, Russia was left disappointed since the Deal focussed on lifting the UN Arms embargo only over a period of five years, rather than immediately (Mahmoudian & Cafiero, 2021). Furthermore, Russia did not benefit much economically during the first three years of the Deal after coming into existence— for Russians, exports to Iran were worth barely more than $5 billion (Mahmoudian & Cafiero, 2021).


Tehran and Moscow have shared an increasingly close relationship, which is characterised by an independent Russian foreign policy that uses Iran as a bargaining chip in its testy relationship with Moscow (European Parliament, 2020).


Both the countries share a common goal to limit the United States’ regional power in the Middle East but their objectives also clash concerning Syria and the tensions over the Caspian Sea. On the question of nuclear power, however, Russia does not want Iran to become a nuclear weapon state.

Therefore, it actively participated in attempts to stave off this possibility, first through the UNSC and then the JCPOA. If Iran develops nuclear weapons, it would directly come into conflict with Russia’s strategic interests. In this context, it considers the JCPOA to be the best tool to avoid such an outcome (European Parliament, 2020).


Despite the fact that Russia is a strong opponent of Iran developing nuclear weapons and has played a significant role in negotiating the JCPOA, a de-escalation of Iran-US brinkmanship coupled with a growth in Iranian-European economic relations could have negative implications for Moscow (Mahmoudian & Cafiero, 2021), which essentially implies that the United States returning to the Nuclear Deal, could in itself have an unfavourable fallout for Moscow. The reason for the same is quite straightforward.


By positioning itself somewhere between Washington and Tehran, Moscow has gained leverage in its broader relationship with the United States and in a regional dialogue with Tehran (European Parliament, 2020).

The hard-line and aggressive stance that the United States has adopted towards Iran has benefitted Moscow in some ways (European Parliament, 2020). The American and European sanctions against the Iranian regime have collectively removed European competition from the Iranian market, compelling Tehran to look to Moscow and Beijing to continue trade and economic activities.


Furthermore, since the early 2000s when Iran’s nuclear progress was exposed to the world and Iran’s relations with the West took a turn for the worse, Moscow has used its relationship with Iran as leverage over the Western countries.

Therefore, if the United States and Europe’s threat perception of Tehran eases, Moscow’s ‘Iran Card’ would slowly lose its significance (Mahmoudian & Cafiero, 2021).


Russia is also aware of Iran’s ambitions to increase its market share of hydrocarbons. The re-implementation of the JCPOA could likely impact Russia’s material well-being in the context of its energy-dependent market. Oil and gas account for almost 60 per cent of Russia’s GDP (Mahmoudian & Cafiero, 2021). Next to Russia, Iran has the world’s second-largest gas reserves. Hence, if and when Iran is given the leeway to return to the global energy markets, it could prove to be a severe challenge to Russia’s oil and gas-dependent economy.


Therefore, the United States’ return to the JCPOA could be a mixed blessing for Russia. Although it is unlikely that Moscow will actively take measures to try and prevent Washington from re-entering the Deal, they are also quite comfortably placed if the United States remains a non-party to the Deal continuing (Mahmoudian & Cafiero, 2021). Simultaneously, the Kremlin is aware that even if the Biden Administration manages to bring the United States back into the Deal, the Iranian leadership (in spite of who wins in the upcoming Presidential elections in Iran) would look to work hard to ensure that the Islamic Republic is no longer vulnerable to unilateral American actions against Tehran, more so if a Republican wins the 2024 elections (Mahmoudian & Cafiero, 2021). In order to achieve this, Tehran will make definite attempts to strengthen its partnership with Moscow, making way for Russia to win on the JCPOA dossier regardless of how Biden decides to move on to Iran (Mahmoudian & Cafiero, 2021).


China


Just as Iran turned to Russia for assistance when the United States withdrew from the Deal in 2018, China too, became a lifeline for Iran’s economy during the time. Ties between Beijing and Tehran have warmed up especially in recent years as both countries have grappled with intensified diplomatic and economic confrontations with the West (Standish, 2021). The United States succeeded in suffocating the Iranian economy by withdrawing itself from the agreement in 2018 and imposing renewed sanctions on Iran. The USA threatened to cut off access to the international banking system for any company that conducted business with Iran, eventually making Tehran desperate enough to push it into the arms of China (Fassihi & Myers, 2020). China acted as an intermediary simultaneously using the growing tensions between Iran and the United States as leverage against Washington, like Russia. Further, the European Union’s exit from the Iranian market and subsequent adoption of unilateral sanctions have also made Iran more dependent on China (European Parliament, 2020).


China’s relationship with Tehran, unlike the Russia-Iran association, is more ‘transactional’ than ‘strategic’ (European Parliament, 2020).

In the past ten years, China has been one of Iran’s topmost trading partners, wherein the former has promoted economic ties on account of the expansion of technology and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China was also critical to the accomplishment of the landmark 2015 Agreement, given its permanent role in the UNSC, for Beijing’s objection or non-participation in the efforts would have effectively undermined the international efforts to sanction or isolate Tehran, for the simple reason that as the world’s second-largest economy and the largest export destination for Iranian oil, China serves as a critical lifeline to the Iranian economy, and thereby the stability of the Iranian regime (Almond, 2016).


However, despite the fact that China sympathised with Tehran when the United States suspended the oil waivers and China continued to purchase oil from Iran, Saudi Arabia has replaced Iran as China’s largest exporter of oil. China too, just as Europe and Russia, caved in to Trump’s ‘maximum pressure campaign and ended up prioritising its relationship with the United States over maintaining trade with Iran.


Since 2018, the Sino-American tensions have escalated drastically chiefly in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. With Beijing recognising the American weakness, as the latter struggles to redefine itself globally with a receding economy amidst the coronavirus pandemic, China has proven to have the technology and appetite for oil which Iran needs to get its economy going (Fassihi & Myers, 2020).


Presently, China is in a position to defy the United States and equivalently powerful to withstand American penalties as it has previously, in the trade war waged by former American President Donald Trump.

The Chinese deal is focused more on furthering Beijing’s regional and global ambitions as a leading power, it has also been successful in undercutting the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate the Iranian government (Fassihi & Myers, 2020).


All these factors and developments have now manifested into a bilateral agreement between Iran and China wherein, Beijing has pledged to invest $400 billion in Iran over the next 25 years, in return for a steady supply of Iranian oil to Beijing at significantly discounted rates (Standish, 2021). China has capitalised on the relatively cautious attitude of the White House towards Iran and has made its move which could result in the expansion of its economic, military and political influence in Iran and across the Middle East (Standish, 2021).

China’s motivation to drive forward a bilateral agreement with Iran even when the latter’s activities brings it into direct conflict with the United States and the EU is driven by its diverse ties and ambitions in the Middle East. China, contrary to its usual stance of non-interference in the disputes of the Middle East, is now playing a growing role in the region. Simultaneously, Beijing is positioning itself to play a more central role in reviving the Iran Nuclear Agreement and de-escalating the tensions between powers in the Middle East (Standish, 2021).


According to Daniel Markey, a professor at John Hopkins University, ‘China wants to show that it is indispensable in solving some of the world’s thorniest problems,’ such that Beijing is portrayed as an even-handed broker and the United States as the more problematic global player (Standish, 2021).

Middle East


While both Russia and China seek to further their own interests through the recent developments in this conflict, the role of the middle eastern regional players, namely Israel and the Gulf nations has also become significant. Parsi (2021) explains that in the course of the USA’s exploration of whether to return to the Deal or not, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – two of the only three countries in the world that opposed the agreement — insist that they must be included in the future negotiations regarding the fate of the Deal.


The researcher theorizes that according to the two States, it is essential that they are included in the negotiations for it would rectify one of the Deal’s supposed flaws – its failure to rein in Tehran’s regional policies (Parsi, The Real Regional Problem with the Iran Deal, 2021).

However, there also exists an underlying motivation on part of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that rests on the fact that they have less interest in strengthening the nuclear deal and more interest in sustaining the enmity between the United States and Iran (Parsi, The Real Regional Problem with the Iran Deal, 2021). The United States’ primary complaint has been that the Nuclear Deal of 2015 did not address any of the regional concerns which are vital for the two countries to ensure that the United States remains actively engaged in protecting their interests in the region. Another notable point in this regard is that back when the deal was being negotiated, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had insisted that, in their absence, the Obama Administration must refrain from bringing regional conflicts into discussions with Iran (Parsi 2021). But now, these countries claim that the primary flaw of the deal is its exclusive nuclear focus (Parsi, The Real Regional Problem with the Iran Deal, 2021). Another factor that explains the present stance of the Gulf States is that, together with Israel and the UAE, Saudi Arabia in fact had supported the Trump Administration’s decision to breach the nuclear agreement and impose ‘maximum pressure on Iran through sanctions (Parsi, The Real Regional Problem with the Iran Deal, 2021).


This served Saudi Arabia’s objectives because the sanctions only further cemented the enmity and escalated the tensions between Iran and the United States, rendering it irreversible.


According to Riyadh, as long as the deadlock between the two nations continues, Washington will continue to sustain its military commitment in the Middle East, on which not only Saudi Arabia, but also the UAE and Israel have now come to depend for security, law enforcement and economic interests.

Thus, the balance of power of the region will continue to tilt in their favour.


Israel has come to become one of the primary oppositions to the Deal. This can be attributed to the possible revival of Iran’s economy if the economic sanctions were or are lifted. It also made way for Iran to garner a place in mainstream global politics rather than being isolated in the Middle East and being a simple spectator along the sidelines (Srivastava, 2018). Israel, especially under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had perceived Iran’s nuclear programme as an existential threat to Israel, and the Iranian government as ‘irrational and suicidal’ (Parsi, 2020). It was reflected in the efforts of Netanyahu’s government that tried hard to ensure that Obama's options were limited. He hoped to make containment impractical and set the bar for diplomacy so high that the talks would never succeed (Parsi, 2021). This would ultimately force Obama to choose either war or acquiescence to an Iranian nuclear weapon. Parsi (2020) notes that Obama in fact took the path which Netanyahu had closed off in the first place – real diplomacy with Iran (Parsi, 2020). This brought Israel and the United States at loggerheads towards the end of Obama’s Presidential term, and Israel was able to push its agenda to sideline Iran only when Donald Trump was elected to the White House.


The grave impact of the American sanctions on the Iranian economy and the ongoing political upheaval in the Middle East is now proving to be another uncertain hurdle in the future of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Addressing Iran’s regional activities should begin with the observation that, more worrisome than Tehran’s strengths are its neighbours’ weaknesses (Singh, 2021). Iran enjoys greater success or autonomy by intervening in states and territories whose political systems are already in upheavals, such as Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Thus, practicality and the author’s (Parsi’s) belief both echo that, countering its regional adventurism can be effectively accomplished by preventing the emergence of new conflicts and strengthening the bonds among American allies to help them act in concert against mutual threats (Singh, 2021). This would serve a dual purpose for the Biden Administration.

Not only would it make way to deter Iran, but it would also better equip American partners to address regional problems.

Conclusion


An escalating arms race in the Middle East, Russia and China’s sympathetic attitude towards the Islamic Republic of Iran, Europe’s consistent pressure asking the United States to return to the Deal has added to the existing complications that the United States faces when it comes to negotiating or conducting diplomacy with Iran. Each of the stakeholders and even the regional players in the Middle East have much to say about the United States’ stance towards Iran, even though their stances have been varied in some cases. In order to ensure the bipartisan support and the long-term survival of the original or a re-negotiated Deal, the United States needs to drive a harder but not an impossible bargain.


This will require openness to diplomacy which Biden has shown and a willingness to take the needed steps to worsen Iran’s alternatives for a prospective negotiated Deal, which could possibly include reserving some of the sanctions as imposed by the Trump Administration.

The Biden administration will find itself negotiating its policy towards Iran, not just with Tehran but with partners in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, as well as with domestic actors such as the Congress. The Obama Administration’s policy was undone by its lack of support in Congress and in the Middle East. Notwithstanding, the Trump Administration was undermined by a lack of support from Europe and in other entities outside those constituencies.


To avoid predecessors’ travails, Biden will need to identify a “minimum sufficient coalition” of domestic and international parties (Singh, 2021) such that America’s policy towards Iran is multilateral, comprehensive, and sustainable and caters to all the parties involved.

By adopting this outside-in approach, the Biden Administration could find itself in a position to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime by denying both Tehran and other future proliferators the benefit of what is currently a permissive environment to advance their nuclear efforts, while remaining in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.





[1] The resolution adopted on 20 July 2015 at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) endorsing the JCPOA, urging its full implementation and termination of previous UNSC sanctions on the Iran nuclear issues (United Nations Security Council, 2015).


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22. Standish, R. (2021). With Huge Iran Deal, China Hopes Deep Pockets Further Boost Influence in Middle East. Radio Free Europe. Retrieved from https://www.rferl.org/a/china-eurasia-iran-deal-middle-east-influence-reid-standish/31175565.html

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24. Vick, K. (2018). Former Israeli PM: The Iran Deal Was Flawed. But Trump's Decision Makes World 'More Uncertain'. Time. Retrieved from https://time.com/5270022/ehud-barak-iran-deal-president-donald-trump-netanyahu/

25. Wintour, P. (2021). Iran Disappointed over Biden Administration's Refusal to Lift Sanctions. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/28/iran-disappointed-after-biden-administration-says-sanctions-to-stay-in-place

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