Since the Biden administration evidently is insisting on negotiating with a predatory regime such as Iran, at least it should not enter the negotiations from a position of weakness. Pictured: Mohammad Eslami (right), head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and Kazem Gharib Abadi, Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), attend the IAEA General Conference in Vienna, Austria on September 20, 2021. (Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images)
The Iranian regime will be resuming "nuclear talks" with the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) next week. It is crucial that the Biden administration not give away the leverage that the former administration built against the Islamic Republic through sanctions. The deal is not yet dead: the Biden administration and the EU are still trying to resurrect it.
China and Russia, because of their shared geopolitical, strategic and economic interests, are likely to align themselves with Iran's leaders and their demands. Iran's new president, Ebrahim Raisi, recently spoke with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, regarding the upcoming nuclear talks and the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). China, Russia, and the Islamic Republic, according to a statement released by the Chinese government, have apparently already reached "a broad consensus" on the deal
Since the Biden administration evidently is insisting on negotiating with a predatory regime such as Iran, at least it should not enter the negotiations from a position of weakness.
The Biden administration needs to understand that the Iranian regime is desperate for the revival of the nuclear deal due to the significant financial and sanctions relief that the JCPOA offers the ruling clerics. The deal that Iran and China recently signed has not yet substantially benefited Tehran financially; it is spread out over 25 years of Chinese investments in Iran's gas and oil industries. Iran may not see any profits from the deal for a long time.
It has become evident in the last three years, since the Trump administration pulled the US out of the nuclear agreement, that China, Russia, or even the European Union cannot completely shield Tehran from US sanctions. In fact, Iran's state-controlled Arman-e-Meli newspaper surprisingly acknowledged on November 20, 2021:
"No country, neither China nor Russia, will be able to save our economy. We must try to lift the sanctions. The way out of the internal pressures and the heavy (bad) economic situation is to get rid of the issue of sanctions and it will be solved with the JCPOA."
Since the Raisi government entered office, it has been attempting to increase Iran's leverage in the negotiations by escalating uranium enrichment to come close to weapons-grade levels and by rapidly advancing the country's nuclear program. The reality on the ground is that the regime needs to revive the nuclear deal in order to lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration after it pulled out the US of the flimsy nuclear deal, which by the way, Iran never signed.
Iran's militia groups are receiving less funding to pursue their terror activities because of the Trump administration's sanctions, which are still in place but will be lifted if the nuclear deal is revived. This shortfall may be why, for the first time in more than three decades, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, made a public statement asking people to donate money to his group, saying: "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. The Yemeni militia group, the Houthis, has also been sending people SMS text messages asking for donations.
Iran's ruling mullahs also need to revive the nuclear deal because it will enable Iran to rejoin the global financial system with full legitimacy -- allowing billions of dollars to flowing into the coffers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its expanding militias across the Middle East.
Based on a report released by the Financial Tribune, the Iranian regime's budget deficit is "on course to reach 4,640 trillion rials ($16.79 billion) in the fiscal 2021-22 while the government is also facing an unfunded deficit of roughly 30%, or 3,830 trillion rials ($13.86 billion)." The regime also recently asked the US to unlock $10 billion.
Iran's mullahs particularly love the nuclear deal because of its fundamental flaws, especially the sunset clauses that remove restrictions on Iran's nuclear program after the deal soon expires. The nuclear deal, rather than preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, as it was falsely touted to do, in fact paves the way for Tehran to become a legitimized nuclear state.
If the Islamic Republic's huge deficit continues, it will cause increasing inflation and contribute to further devaluation of the currency. This will, in return, add to the frustration of the people against the ruling clerics, which could trigger another nationwide uprising and endanger the theocratic establishment's hold on power.
Raisi has formed a Cabinet full of members of the security services -- the Quds Force and the IRGC -- offering yet another indication that the regime is afraid of further uprisings.
In addition, the regime seems extremely concerned about its regional isolation and how the geopolitical chessboard of the Middle East is tipping the balance of power against Tehran -- particularly by the recent development of better relations between Israel and some of the Arab Gulf states. From the perspective of the Iranian leaders, the nuclear deal will address such concerns, because it will give Tehran global legitimacy, acceptance in the international community, and reintegrate Iran in the global financial system. As Iran's state-controlled Arman-e-Meli newspaper recently warned:
"We must take care of the security circles around the country. Recently, the Zionist regime has been trying to form a regional and international coalition against our country (regime). These threats should not be ignored. It should not be taken lightly, but it can be very serious. A front is forming in the region with four main members: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt. The Prime Minister of the Zionist regime has announced that the anti-Iranian alliance in the region will take a stronger shape. This front can be dangerous and a threat to us. Negotiations must begin peacefully."
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