A new nuclear deal with Iran, in substance or principle, may be imminent. But the circumstances that would produce such an arrangement ensure that it would not bring peace. It may not even postpone war.
On the night of March 13, a volley of rockets launched from inside Iran rained down on targets in the Iraqi city of Erbil near enough to a U.S. consulate compound that it left no ambiguity about Tehran’s targets. That attack, the Associated Press reports, bolstered arguments both for and against a new nuclear deal. How? “For the administration,” the AP continued, “it confirmed that Iran would be a greater danger if it obtains a nuke.” In other words, Iran must be rewarded for shooting at Americans lest it continue to shoot at Americans. This mindboggling logic tacitly admits that a new nuclear deal is a product of duress; we are deterred by the mere potential of an Iranian bomb.
In the administration’s efforts to keep negotiations over an Iranian program from collapsing, the White House is already sacrificing its relationships with America’s partners in the region. Following the Iranian missile strike, administration officials told New York Times officials that the American facilities that were struck were not, in fact, Tehran’s target. Those officials lent credence to an Iranian narrative that the strike was a response to an Israeli airstrike in Syria in which Iranians operating a secret drone factory were killed. Tehran, the unnamed officials insisted, was actually targeting secret Israeli training facilities inside Iraq.
If that is true, the White House had just revealed the shocking and previously deniable existence of Israeli military facilities inside Iraq. If it isn’t true, it was a repulsively craven display designed to let the White House squeeze out of its obligation to defend U.S. interests from brazen attacks by rogue states. Either way, it was a betrayal of Israel and a display of weakness that will beget future attacks on the symbols of American might in the region.
Saudi Arabia isn’t taking the news well either. The Saudis are perhaps the most unnerved by the prospect of a nuclear accord that would not stop Iran from getting a bomb but would provide Tehran with renewed influence in the Middle East. Riyadh has been engaged in a hot war against an Iran-backed proxy militia in Yemen for the better part of a decade, and it had reason to expect that the U.S. would support its objectives on the Arabian Peninsula. This would only make sense. The Houthis represent a threat to international shipping in the Gulf of Aden and they’re responsible for launching attacks aimed at American forces based in the United Arab Emirates. But the Saudis have been cut off by the Biden administration, and its headlong rush into a new nuclear deal with Iran signals that the Kingdom may have to go it alone. So, the Saudis are doing just that.
Saudi Arabia is reportedly intensifying talks with China that would result in a deal that allows Beijing to purchase the millions of barrels of oil it receives from the Kingdom in yuan, not dollars. Such an arrangement would advance China’s goal of making its currency a globally tradable commodity, challenging America’s financial dominance and aiding in Beijing’s quest to create a parallel financial system that undermines the West.
The administration’s hunger for something resembling a new JCPOA is already undermining it’s full-scale economic blockade of Russia. The United States wants Moscow to take custody of Iranian nuclear fuel, and Moscow needs sanctions relief. Apparently, everyone is getting what they want.
Reuters reports that the U.S. will not enforce economic sanctions against Russia that are related to the full implementation of an arrangement to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters this week that Moscow has received “written guarantees” from the United States confirming these reports, and the State Department isn’t denying his claim. “Perhaps it is now clear to Moscow that the new Russia-related sanctions are unrelated to the JCPOA and should not have any impact on its implementation,” a functionary at Foggy Bottom told Axios. Even as Moscow starves, freezes, and bombs Ukrainian civilians on an industrial scale, negotiators in Vienna still view Russia as a good-standing member of the community of nations.
All of these sacrifices are unlikely to achieve Washington’s primary objective: forestalling the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon. The terms of a new accord, insofar as they are known, are weaker than the original JCPOA, which allowed Iran to preserve its nuclear know-how, left its centrifuges intact, did not address Iranian missile development, and gave Tehran a free hand to execute proxy attacks throughout the Middle East. A new deal and the sanctions relief that is expected to accompany it will leave Iran richer, more powerful, and more influential in its neighborhood, all while pushing back the estimated time it will take for Iran to “break out” a fissionable device by a whopping six to nine months.
The U.S. is sacrificing more in pursuit of a new Iran deal than it will gain from such an agreement. The Biden administration should go back to the drawing board.