Iran's ruling mullahs most likely assume that they can extort even more concessions from a Biden administration, because they successfully did so with the Obama administration. Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently said at a forum that he wants a new deal. "A sign of good faith is not to try to renegotiate what has already been negotiated," he said, later adding that the US must "Compensate us for our losses." Pictured: Then US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Zarif during negotiations in Vienna, Austria, on July 14, 2014. (Image source: US State Department)
The Iranian regime received a dangerous and unprecedented level of concessions from the Obama administration for Iran's 2015 "nuclear deal," known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) -- which, by the way, Tehran never signed. The major concession was that the deal paved the way for Iran legally to become a full-blown nuclear state.
The sunset clauses, which enshrined that commitment, had set a firm expiration date for restricting Iran's nuclear program. The Obama administration also helped swiftly lift all four rounds of UN sanctions against Iran -- sanctions it had taken decades to put in place. Furthermore, Iran's military sites were exempt from inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and other inspections were only to be at the times and places of Iran's choosing -- if ever. Iran then rejoined the global financial system with full legitimacy -- plus billions of dollars flowing into the treasury of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its expanding militias across the Middle East.
You would think, then, that the regime would be delighted to return to the same nuclear deal, right? Wrong. The mullahs want an even sweeter deal. Why? Partially because Joe Biden already showed his cards by stating that he wants the deal. "I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy," Biden stated in a CNN op-ed.
"If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern."
The regime now knows that Biden seems desperate for a deal, and doubtless sees this as a delectable weakness.
Just as enticing to the mullahs, Biden has appointed Wendy Sherman -- a key negotiator in the talks which led to the nuclear deal in 2015 during the Obama administration -- to be Deputy Secretary of State. Biden actually pointed to this professed accomplishment:
"She [Sherman] has successfully rallied the world to strengthen democracy and confront some of the biggest national security challenges of our time, including leading the U.S. negotiating team for the Iran Deal".
That sent a further strong message to Iran that the Biden administration was desperate to return to the nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, the Iranian regime can only feel emboldened by the position of the European Union. The EU is lobbying for returning to the JCPOA and lifting sanctions on Iran -- in spite of the fact, as France's Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian recently acknowledged, that Tehran is rapidly acquiring nuclear weapons capacity. The EU announced last week its "strong commitment" to the Iranian nuclear deal and urged Biden swiftly to rejoin it:
"The EU reiterates its strong commitment to and continued support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The JCPoA is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and an achievement of multilateral diplomacy, endorsed unanimously by the UN Security Council through resolution 2231."
Iran's ruling mullahs also most likely assume that they can extort even more concessions from a Democrat administration, particularly Biden's, because they successfully did so in the past, with the Obama administration, when Biden served as Vice President.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, nevertheless, told a forum organized by New York's Council on Foreign Relations that he wants a new deal. "A sign of good faith is not to try to renegotiate what has already been negotiated," he said, adding in the same speech that the US must "Compensate us for our losses." Iran's top judicial body had already demanded that the US pay $130 billion in "damages."
Iran's regime, in addition, is playing another dangerous game, as it did with the Obama administration, to program to extort greater concessions from the Biden administration: It is ratcheting up nuclear threats.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the civilian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stated on January 1, 2021 that Tehran will enrich uranium at a higher level, a short technical step away from weapons-grade level. The IAEA confirmed the plan:
"Iran has informed the agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country's parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. Iran's letter to the agency, dated [Dec. 31, 2020] did not say when this enrichment activity would take place."
Now, at an underground facility, Iran's theocratic establishment is enriching uranium at 20 percent.
Furthermore, on January 4, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), seized in the Gulf a South Korean-flagged ship carrying thousands of tons of ethanol, according to Fars News. The move alarmed the US State Department. A spokesperson noted:
"The (Iranian) regime continues to threaten navigational rights and freedoms in the Persian Gulf as part of a clear attempt to extort the international community into relieving the pressure of sanctions. We join the Republic of Korea's call for Iran to immediately release the tanker,"
Meanwhile, General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the IRGC, recently threatened the U.S. and the United Kingdom. "If you cross our red line," he announced, "we will destroy you. We will not leave any move unanswered. The enemy will not have security anywhere." He added that the regime's "patience has a limit."
The Iranian parliament also recently passed another law, requiring the government to expel the nuclear inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
All these measures -- using threats and nuclear violations -- are just aimed at getting a still sweeter deal from the Biden administration.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu