Challenges Facing President Biden In Iranian Nuclear File
Iran and the US are back again in Vienna to discuss Tehran’s controversial nuclear program and the removal of US sanctions after a 5-month hiatus. Frankly speaking, we should keep our expectations low. The challenges that were facing Barack Obama’s administration differ from that facing President Joe Biden. Indeed, the only common challenge is Israel. But, Tel Aviv is just the tip of the iceberg. We expect neither a quick accord nor a collapse.
It’s not easy to bring two enemies to the bargaining table and expect a quick agreement. Indeed, Iran is less likely to make any concessions to the US. Meanwhile, President Biden is facing a maximum-pressure campaign from the Republicans. If Biden makes any concessions to Tehran, his Democratic party is likely to lose seats in Congress.
The China factor
Also, President Biden needs backing from China. Despite the US sanction on Iran, Beijing refuses to halt its oil deals with Tehran. Beijing needs Iran and Russia in its cold war with Washington. Hence, China is likely to keep its support for Iran to place a noose around Washington’s neck. This in return will boost Tehran’s bargaining power on the negotiating table.
Last week, Reuters published an op-ed on the role of China in the ongoing nuclear negotiations. It argues that the US is aware of the fact that the ongoing round of talks is less likely to bring the deserved outcome.
“The stated U.S. aim when indirect U.S.-Iranian talks resume this month is to see if the two can revive a 2015 nuclear deal, but Washington’s unspoken goal may be to win support from China and Russia to pressure Iran if the talks fail,” diplomats said.
“One way to pressure Iran to rejoin the original pact or, if that is not possible, to accept another arrangement would be to persuade Beijing and Moscow that Tehran, not Washington, is the obstacle,” diplomats said.
Israel as well represents a headache to the new administration. Last week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited France and the UK as part of Israel’s diplomatic blitz against the Iranian nuclear deal. Israeli diplomats have made it clear that the military option is still on the table if Tehran ramps up its nuclear program. Yet, we have doubts that Israel will take military action against Iran for several reasons. First, Israel will find itself surrounded by Iranian missiles in less than 10 hours. Second, the Israeli public is less likely to back a war against Iran. What we can expect from Israel is just a noise in the background.
In sum then, President Biden is faced with two options. The first is to make concessions to Iran and lose public support. The second is to keep the negotiations with Tehran without committing to a deal, at least for now. But, Iran is less likely to support this option given the deteriorating economic conditions in Tehran.