Having conspicuously failed in its efforts to prevent Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration looks set to add to its global reputation for weakness by agreeing yet another flawed nuclear deal with Iran. Pictured: Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, speaks to the media at the Palais Coburg, venue of the nuclear negotiations, in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (Photo by Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images)
Having conspicuously failed in its efforts to prevent Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration looks set to add to its global reputation for weakness by agreeing yet another flawed nuclear deal with Iran.
Negotiations in Vienna to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to limit Iran's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons, are said to be reaching a conclusion, with the possibility that a new agreement could be announced in the coming weeks.
Indeed, with both Iranian and Western officials indicating that a deal is close to being agreed, the only remaining stumbling block appears to be last-minute demands by Russia for Moscow to be granted sanctions relief on its future trade dealings with Tehran.
As one of the signatories to the original JCPOA agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, Russia has been fully involved in the latest talks to revive the deal, as the negotiator for the US. Western negotiators have claimed that Moscow was effectively supporting Iran to withstand pressure from the US to make concessions.
Russia's decision to invade Ukraine, however, has complicated matters: the West has responded by imposing hard-hitting sanctions against Moscow -- sanctions, moreover, that would apply to any future trading arrangements Russia might have with Tehran in the event a new nuclear deal was agreed, and sanctions against Iran lifted.
Initially, Washington said it had no intention of offering Russia sanctions relief. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking during a visit to Tehran this week, insisted that Moscow had received written guarantees from Washington that Western sanctions on Russia over Ukraine. The remark suggests Russia can continue trading with Iran in spite of US sanctions.
"We received written guarantees," said Mr Lavrov. "They are included in the text of the agreement itself on the resumption of the JCPOA on the Iranian nuclear programme."
If true, the fact that Russia has assurances from Washington that sanctions will not affect its dealings with Iran is further evidence of the Biden administration's desperation to reach a new agreement with Tehran, even if it means making unpalatable concessions on Iran's nuclear activities.
The latest assessments regarding the progress Iran has made on its uranium enrichment programme -- a vital process in the development of nuclear weapons -- certainly makes for grim reading. After Iran abandoned its JCPOA commitments to limit uranium enrichment in late 2020, the regime is now estimated to have sufficient quantities of enriched uranium for four nuclear warheads.
In addition, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps demonstrated the increasing sophistication of its ballistic missile capabilities by launching its second satellite into space earlier this month. The US insists the satellite launches are in breach of a UN Security Council resolution, while intelligence experts believe Iran's space programme is being used to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Iran's mounting stockpile of enriched uranium, together with the enhanced sophistication of its missile development, are certainly becoming causes of deep concern for Western officials taking part in the Vienna talks; they just seem not to know what to do about them.
As Corinne Kitsell, the UK's Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, remarked earlier this month:
"Iran has continued to advance its nuclear programme by developing its stockpile of enriched uranium and conducting activities that provide permanent and irreversible knowledge gains. Iran's nuclear programme has never before been this advanced, and is exposing the international community to unprecedented levels of risk."
Even so, all the indications suggest that the Biden administration is unlikely to hold Tehran to account for its flagrant disregard for the JCPOA, and will instead press ahead with securing a new deal regardless.
This is because, with global energy prices rocketing as a result of the Ukraine crisis, Washington's main priority now is to lift sanctions against Iran so that the regime can start producing oil, to increase global production and bring down the price of gasoline and heating oil in the US before upcoming mid-term elections on November 8.
The problem for Mr Biden is that, by failing to address the very real threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, he will simply be presiding over a further erosion in America's standing as a global power.
Mr Biden's unwillingness to face the reality of Iran's nuclear ambitions has already created tensions with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two oil-producing Gulf states that previously enjoyed close ties with Washington. Their unhappiness at the Biden administration's conduct was reflected in the recent refusal of the leaders of both countries to take calls from Mr Biden to discuss the global energy crunch.
The White House should understand that the refusal of these two former American allies even to talk to Mr Biden on such a vital issue as global energy supplies is a direct consequence of its flawed approach to the Iran deal, one that, if it goes ahead in its current form, will be just another nail in the coffin of Mr Biden's presidency.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.