A new interim nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran may be imminent. U.S. denials that such a deal is on the table are likely motivated by an intention to frame it as an informal understanding rather than an international treaty in order to avoid the need for Congressional endorsement, thus reflecting semantics instead of reality.
Leaked details of the “non-deal” suggest Iran would agree to cease enrichment activity and give other undertakings, including freeing U.S.-Iranian dual citizens currently held in custody, in return for sanctions relief that would immediately release around $20 billion of frozen Iranian funds with hundreds of billions more to follow.
The White House knows that no diplomatic understanding with Tehran is worth the paper it’s printed on and no such undertakings will stop Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.
So why are they heading down this path? There are two reasons. The first is to give Biden a win on the international stage that he so badly needs after the debacles over withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China supplanting the U.S. as power broker in the Middle East.
The second is to pile pressure on Israel and this again has two parts. Part one is to deter Jerusalem from executing a major military strike against Iran’s nuclear programme which has become more plausible since Benjamin Netanyahu resumed the premiership.
Despite the catalogue of foreign policy failures that arose directly from craven weakness in Washington, the White House does not seem to have learned that deterrence is the most effective means of averting war and remains fearful not only of wielding a credible military threat against Iran but also of Israel doing so. Biden and those around him know that an extant nuclear agreement with Tehran, supported by the Europeans, complicates any military action by Israel.
Part two is the pursuit of the elusive two-state solution which remains a fixation in the minds of policy-makers in Washington despite continued iron-clad Palestinian intransigence that has spanned many decades, demonstrating that any prospect of that — at least in the foreseeable future — is unachievable.
Biden thinks he can seduce Jerusalem with the honey trap of an Abraham Accords-style normalisation with Saudi Arabia in exchange for acquiescence — or at least keeping shtum — over an Iran nuclear deal. Riyadh has made clear that one of its conditions for normalisation is the creation of a Palestinian state and of course the Administration not only supports but actively encourages that thinking.
If Biden’s non-deal materialises it will represent another catastrophic foreign policy failure that will have repercussions well beyond the Middle East. It will be supported by European governments and will reinforce the perception, and the reality, of Western weakness that encouraged Putin to invade Ukraine last year. What we’re talking about here is pure appeasement and empowerment of a regime that is implacably and actively opposed to the U.S. and everything it stands for.
Tehran has become the main weapons supplier to Russia, providing thousands of killer drones that have been used to aid and abet war crimes against Ukrainian civilians. Aside from the drones’ criminal use, even their export by Iran is currently illegal under the terms of the UN Security Council resolution that supported the JCPOA nuclear deal. That restriction is due to expire in a matter of months, along with UN restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile programme.
The mood of appeasement in Washington and European capitals suggests no attempt will be made to extend or replace it. Failure to clamp down effectively against Iran’s support for Putin’s war, so obviously to help bring about Biden’s deal, also increases the flow of traffic in the opposite direction, with Russia already providing significant funds to Iran and considering the supply of combat planes and missile technology.
Meanwhile, as well as the violent oppression of its own people, Iran continues to facilitate and direct its proxies to attack Israel as we saw last month when 1,500 missiles were fired by Islamic Jihad at the civilian population.
No doubt a condition of Biden’s deal will be to desist from these activities but Tehran will not do so any more than it will cease enriching uranium and working on weaponisation, and unfreezing of assets will help fund such aggression despite any attempts to control how that money is spent.
Then there is the spectre of China looming across the entire picture. Every weakness exhibited by Washington is carefully noted in Beijing and feeds into its plans for global expansion not least over Taiwan.
President Xi has certainly not failed to appreciate that Washington’s pursuit of diplomatic accommodation with Iran is the reason the U.S. has failed to enforce sanctions prohibiting oil trade between his country and Iran, with exports currently running at a million barrels per day.
Last week, Khamenei made encouraging noises about the prospective deal, a change in attitude that only reinforces what some of us already know — that Biden’s proposals work in favour of Iran and against Israel and the U.S.
Among other benefits of Washington again kicking the nuclear can down the road is the time it buys the ayatollahs to continue burying and hardening their nuclear facilities, adding even greater challenges to whoever has to bomb them and perhaps ultimately placing Iran’s nuclear programme beyond military reach.
- Colonel Richard Kemp is a former UK Armed Forces commander