On Tuesday, May 8, 2018, US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the international agreement and announced the return of nuclear sanctions, in violation of Washington’s commitments under the JCPOA. But despite using sanctions and other pressure, Trump has been unable to lure Iran into negotiating a new deal.
Joe Biden has said he sees a return to the current 2015 agreement as the best immediate route to regional stability. The approach — which is likely to disappoint the US’s main Middle East partners — sets the stage for Biden’s administration to lay out its strategy once it takes office next month.
European powers are backing president-elect Joe Biden’s suggestion that the US returns to a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in its existing form. Germany, France and the UK committed, along with fellow accord signatories Iran, Russia and China, to “positively address” Washington’s possible re-entry after President Donald Trump quit in 2018.
Recently, 150 House Democrats signed a letter backing President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to reenter the Iran nuclear deal without any new conditions. The letter is enough to block any congressional bid to block the move.
Why does Biden want to return to the deal? What is the importance of the deal particularly for Europe?
Biden wants to return to Barjam (JCPOA) because, as Vice-President of Barack Obama, he was part of the process which led to the conclusion of this agreement. He has been able to see the disaster created by Trump’s policy of maximum pressure. He is sincerely convinced that a return of the US to the deal would be in everybody’s interest and first of all, in the interest of nuclear nonproliferation. As for Europe, there is no doubt that it has always considered the survival of the JCPOA as a matter of utmost importance, and has always been in favor of the US’ return, precisely because it has quickly realized that it would not be able to alleviate all the damages that were created by the US’ departure.
Considering the viewpoints of some of Biden’s men and women towards his return to the JCPOA, do you think that it will be an easy job for him?
Most people around Joe Biden were also part of Obama’s administration and favour a return to the deal. I do not see any risk of conflict here. Of course, the case is different with people in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. Most Republicans and many Democrats maintain a hostile attitude towards Iran. But Biden does not need the approval of the Congress to come back to the Deal. A simple signature of him will be enough, as a simple signature of Donald Trump was enough to quit the JCPOA without delay.
What can be the most urgent steps that Biden should take to pave the way for the US return?
There is a signal of goodwill that the new President could immediately deliver. That would be to lift all obstacles to humanitarian help in favor of Iran’s fight against the COVID-19. Again, a simple and clear order to the US office in charge of sanctions should suffice, and, of course, a close oversight on the way this order would be implemented, to be sure that it would get a fast and fair implementation. Concerning the return to the JCPOA, a pragmatic, result-oriented negotiation between the US and Iran should quickly lead to an agreement based on a simple principle: a simultaneous return, as fast as possible, to the full implementation of the JCPOA, that is for the US the lifting of all sanctions figuring in the Vienna agreement, and for Iran a comeback to the strict provisions concerning its nuclear program. This would leave of course open the question of the many additional sanctions adopted in Trump’s time. This point, probably more complex to solve quickly in its entirety, could be addressed in the same negotiation, or immediately after. But if there is a common will, there will be a way.
Given that we are on the eve of 2021, I would be grateful if you tell me what was the most important event in 2020? Why?
The most important event of the year 2020 has been undoubtedly the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the challenge it has raised against our way of life, and even our civilization. Because of its geopolitical implications. And because of the human suffering, it has created in each and every corner of our whole world.
Interview by Zahra Mirzafarjouyan