Goodbye To All That

The Biden administration entered office determined to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the Iran nuclear deal—that the Obama administration agreed to in 2015 and that Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018. Despite six rounds of failed talks in Vienna, and despite Iran continuing to advance its nuclear programs, the administration is still sending signals saying, “Pretty, pretty please, let’s talk.” 

There is now no doubt that the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and his mini-me president, Ebrahim Raisi, don’t intend to accept an accord that could plausibly be described as a follow-on to the JCPOA. In recent months, the Islamic Republic has upped its uranium enrichment levels to 60 percent (ideal bomb purity is 90 percent), come closer to perfecting high-yield enrichment machines, and called the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) “unprofessional.” Reports indicate that Iran could be within one month of having enough weapons-grade uranium to make a nuclear bomb.

If the White House gets a new deal—and one must admire Khamenei for the way he has methodically ratcheted up pressure on the United States, via uranium enrichment and Shiite militia attacks in Iraq—it will amount to an American surrender with, at best, an Iranian promissory note for further talks after Joe Biden has eliminated the sanctions that matter. Advanced centrifuge development will surely continue, as will all the sunset clauses of the JCPOA, which allow in a few years for an easily weaponized, industrial-scale nuclear infrastructure. 

The White House deserves some praise: The president has so far held out from making the concessions that Khamenei has demanded, which likely are even more extensive than those offered by Obama. The White House has only three options: unleash the U.S. Air Force and Navy, publicly concede to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions (and either keep sanctions or fold), or make a deal that temporarily reduces Iran’s uranium stockpile and little else and call it victory. Since there is likely no domestic political penalty, certainly not within the Democratic Party, with option three, Biden will try to snatch it—provided Khamenei hasn’t decided to just tell America to stuff it. (Always a possibility with the cleric.)  

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