A basic rule in negotiations is to keep or gain leverage against the other party. The Biden administration, mystifyingly, is doing exactly the opposite in its negotiations with the regime of Iran. Right before heading to Vienna to negotiate rejoining the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal, US State Department spokesman Ned Price dropped a bombshell when he told reporters that the US is prepared to lift sanctions against Iran. Pictured: Price on February 17, 2021. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
A basic rule in negotiations is to keep or gain leverage against the other party. The Biden administration, mystifyingly, is doing exactly the opposite in its negotiations with the regime of Iran.
Right before heading to Vienna to negotiate rejoining the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal, which, incidentally, Iran never signed, US State Department spokesman Ned Price dropped a bombshell when he told reporters that the US is prepared to lift sanctions against Iran:
"We are prepared to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the JCPOA, including by lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA. I am not in a position here to give you chapter and verse on what those might be".
Why on earth would the administration tell the Iranian leaders before negotiations that it is ready to lift sanctions while it has not yet received anything in return from the mullahs? The Iranian regime, of course, immediately scented weakness and desperation and began increasing its demands. The Biden administration then offered $1 billion to the mullahs in exchange for the regime freezing its production of 20% uranium enrichment. No, Iran wants more. Its leaders demanded $30 billion for one month of freeze.
Presumably to gain additional leverage and extort more concessions, the regime announced during those negotiations that it had begun testing its newest advanced nuclear centrifuges.
The Biden administration does not seem to understand that it is the Iranian regime that is desperate for the nuclear deal, not the US.
After the former administration began imposing pressure on the Iranian regime during the last few years, the mullahs saw two major uprisings. Iran's regime is now bankrupt both politically and economically, and with a version of elections -- in which candidates are vetted and approved by Iran's Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- are scheduled for June 18.
Currently, the regime appears to be finding it extremely difficult to maintain funding for its militias and all its forces both inside and outside Iran. For the first time in more than three decades, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Arab League and Israel, among other countries, made a public statement asking people to donate money to his group. "The sanctions and terror lists," he pointed out, "are a form of warfare against the resistance and we must deal with them as such. I announce today that we are in need of the support of our popular base. It is the responsibility of the Lebanese resistance, its popular base, its milieu," to battle these measures.
Iran's currency, the rial, lost more than half its value just in 2020 - a decline that makes it one of the world's most worthless currencies. As of April 10, the rial traded on unofficial markets at 25,500 to the US dollar. The ruling mullahs are also facing one of the worst budget deficits in the four decades since they seized power. Iran's regime is currently running a $200 million budget deficit per week and it is estimated that if the pressure on Tehran continues, the deficit will hit roughly $10 billion by March 2021. This deficit will, in return, increase inflation and devalue the currency even further.
The regime has also signed a 25-year secret deal with China that grants China significant rights over Iran's resources. China will reportedly be investing nearly $400 billion in Iran's oil, gas and petrochemicals industries. In return, China will receive priority to bid on any new project in Iran that is linked to these sectors. China will also deploy 5,000 members of its security forces on the ground in Iran. The deal -- the terms of which have not been made public, only leaked -- will apparently include discounted Iranian oil and gas for China for 25 years. The agreement, which also appears aimed at undermining US position in the region, has drawn harsh protests from the Iranian public.
At the regional level, the regime is also extremely isolated as Israel and the Arab states have become closer.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has been forging ahead with the failed "nuclear deal" -- which permits Iran to become a legitimate, full-blown nuclear power in just a few years -- in spite of massive opposition from the US Congress. Some Republican lawmakers in the Congress have put forward eight plans to prevent the U.S. government from returning to the JCPOA agreement. These proposals include tightening sanctions against Iran, declaring non-support for the JCPOA, and opposing the easing of sanctions -- all part of an effort to prevent the United States from rejoining an agreement they presumably consider toxic, not just for the Middle East and Europe, but also for South America, where, as in Venezuela, Hezbollah has been "creat[ing] mischief" on America's southern front.
The main criticism from congressional Republicans and Democrats in 2015 was related to the nuclear deal's deadlines. According to the agreement's framework, all restrictions imposed on Iran's nuclear and missile program were to be lifted in a few years. In 2030, Iran would be able to enrich uranium indefinitely and increase the number and quality of its centrifuges indefinitely -- as it is already begun doing. Iran enriching uranium at any level -- it is a negligibly small step to enrich uranium from "acceptable levels" to "nuclear" levels -- puts the world at risk, especially as other countries in the region could understandably feel compelled to start their nuclear programs as a deterrent.
The US and the UN Security Council also would do well to impose sanctions on Tehran for its violation of Resolution 2231, which "calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology."
Meanwhile, Iran's leaders are further enriching uranium to build their nuclear bombs, fine-tuning ballistic missiles to carry them, and have continued to chant "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!"
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