- + Biden will find a very different scenario as compared to 2015.
- + Iran has already defined its conditions to resume the agreement, but at any moment, it could negotiate a new one.
- + US’ traditional allies are preparing to act in case a new negotiation does not meet their interests.
Why is Biden’s heat level chilly?
Answer: Due to the difficulty of resuming the nuclear agreement with Iran.
The Nuclear Agreement promoted by the Obama administration, together with the 5+1 group (United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany) and signed by Iran in 2015, finds itself at a quite different point after 4 years of the Trump administration.
In April 2018, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, published more than 55,000 documents on the secret Iranian project to obtain nuclear war capacity. This prompted the Trump administration to withdraw from the Nuclear Deal, reimposing sanctions on the Ayatollah regime. The other signatories of the agreement were unable to circumvent Washington’s new policy called “maximum pressure” and keep the agreement alive.
This policy was especially well received by the US allies in the Middle East, who had been excluded from the negotiation of the agreement; their concerns were not considered despite them being the main threat to the agreement. Shortly, and less and less timidly, Iran began to bypass the agreement’s bans and accelerate its uranium enrichment process.
2020, in addition to being the year of Covid-19, was also the year of the presidential elections in the United States. While Trump intended to maintain his pressure on Iran, Biden has been reiterating his will to recover the Deal circumscribed in 2015. But as we have mentioned before, the Middle East has changed a lot, some conflicts such as the Syrian civil war or the war in Yemen continue after several years of bloody clashes.
Curiously, active Iranian participation has been observed in both conflicts. But there has also been a surprising rapprochement between several Sunni countries (UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco) with their traditional enemy, Israel, which concluded with the signing of the “Abraham Accords” and the normalization of relations between them.
One of the links of these agreements was the common concern regarding Iran, as the main destabilizer and threat to the region. All the signatories, and other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, and Egypt, had been openly supporting Trump’s strategy against the Persian country. But since mid-November, all these countries have been timidly showing their reluctance to the will of the Biden administration to retake the Nuclear Deal.
Who is changing Biden’s temperature?
Answer: The United States’s traditional allies in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab countries in the area have kept a low profile since the takeover of the Biden administration. This is because, in recent years, the Democratic Party has been criticizing both the foreign and domestic policy of these countries. In addition, the Obama administration, which Biden was the vice president of, had a series of mix-ups in the last years of its second term.
On the other hand, Netanyahu, considered one of the main American allies, enjoys a lot of influence in both American political parties, the Democrats, and the Republicans. This is despite the explicit discrepancies with the Obama administration and a position quite close to the Trump administration. The Biden administration faces an obstacle here to pressure Israel in favour of its interests in the region. Biden would meet resistance from both the legislative bodies, lobbies and even public opinion.
Before the US elections, Netanyahu defined the red lines he was not willing to let Iran cross. This position conflicts with his US policy regarding Iran. Moreover, ever since Biden took office, the Hebrew State has intensified its attacks against Iranian interests in third countries (Syria and Iraq), with up to 4 strikes in just 2 weeks, more than 200 Iranian soldiers killed, including General Mohammad-Ali Allahdadi of the Quds forces.
But the one who has activated the countdown and put Biden on the ropes has been the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, Aviv Kohavi. In the 14th edition of the annual conference of the INSS (Institute for National Security Studies), the main reference in security matters in the Middle East, Kohavi announced that since last year, the army has been receiving special budgets to prepare a range of military operations for a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The top Israeli military leader went further when he indirectly addressed Biden saying that a new agreement with Iran would be a “strategic mistake.”. To conclude, he declared: “Israel will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power.”
The biggest surprise was that in this same forum and just one day later, the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and Anwar Gargash respectively, stated their common vision and collaboration with Israel on the matter of Iran.
What is driving Biden?
Answer: His promise during the campaign, and to keep the traditional foreign policy of previous Democratic administrations.
Biden was vice-president of the United States during the Obama administration and the main promoter of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement. Despite this, his position regarding the agreement was unknown given his little involvement, which had fallen into the hands of Secretary of State at that time, John Kerry. But the appointments made during the first days of his administration show a willingness to maintain the path established by the Obama administration. Proof of this is the appointment of Antony Blinken as Secretary of State, who was one of the main negotiators of the 2015 agreement.
The other signatories of the agreement were very opposed to the US withdrawal from the said agreement during the Trump administration in part because they would benefit from billionaire trade agreements once the economic sanctions against Iran were lifted. They tried in different ways to keep the agreement alive, but without much success. They all retired, waiting for a change in the White House in the 2020 elections, which would bring the US back to the deal.
But the repeated violation by Iran on various points of the 2015 Nuclear Agreement has raised concerns from some of the signatories who remained in it. French President, Emmanuel Macron, said: “Tehran must comply with the nuclear deal before the United States returns”. Also, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “Tehran’s irresponsible behavior in recent weeks has made clear how important it is to stop Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons.”
What does this mean for you?
Answer: It depends on whether Biden chooses to keep the promises he made during his election campaign.
As the main economic beneficiaries of the Nuclear Agreement of 2015, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin press to maintain it. The European countries, however, begin to see Iranian activities with greater concern and call for a new, tougher, and restricted agreement that also covers the program’s ballistic missiles.
What’s more, is that an alliance has emerged amongst all the threatened countries and Iran’s neighbours. Having been Washington’s traditional allies in the region, but permanently excluded from all negotiations with the Ayatollah regime, they have understood that they may have to address their concerns without the US’ help. Leading this alliance is Netanyahu, who has already shown in the past that neither the United States nor anyone else could prevent them from protecting their interests, preemptively attacking the nuclear programs of Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007). In the background is Mohammed bin Salman, given its disagreements with Washington, who leads a coalition of Sunni Arab countries.
For its part, Iran has already responded to France and Germany, stating that it will not respect the 2015 agreement until Washington removes all sanctions. It is not willing to renegotiate any new agreement.
The reality is that the drums of war have begun to beat in the Middle East, and if unleashed, the repercussions would be global. 15% of world trade passes through the Middle East, and 40% of world oil is produced there. Considering that we are amid an economic crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, only if one of these indicators were affected, the global economic consequences could be of incalculable magnitudes.
Biden has the option of either continuing the Obama administration’s legacy, delaying the problem until 2030 (the expiration date of the agreement) or returning to that agreement, at the cost of losing all influence in the Middle East with his traditional allies.
Also, he can try to renegotiate a new agreement with the demands of said allies or maintain the ‘maximum pressure’ policy of the Trump administration, which most countries in the region are in favour of. The Israeli government has warned that by the end of 2021, Iran would already have the capacity to arm its first nuclear weapon. Considering the militarily threat then, the deadline would be earlier. So, the clock has started its countdown, tick tock …