If the Biden administration jumps back into the Iran nuclear deal without addressing undeclared sites, sunset clauses, ballistic missiles, regional behavior, terrorism and human rights, then it will have entered a worse deal than even the one in 2015. Iran must make concrete concessions before any U.S. favor. Period.
MICHAEL PREGENT , SENIOR FELLOW, HUDSON INSTITUTE ON 4/12/21 AT 6:30 AM EDT
Everything that sounded "OK" to the Obama-Biden Administration in 2015 is set to become very bad, very soon.
Here's where we are.
The arms embargo in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (i.e, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or "JCPOA") expired in October of 2020. The Russians and the Chinese are standing by, ready to provide the regime with offensive weapons systems. In the meantime, predators Russia and China are securing contracts on the cheap for Iran's oil and gas reserves as collateral for offensive weapons sales the regime has long coveted.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) on ballistic missile constraints expire in 2023. In two years, Iran will be able to accelerate its ballistic missile program and acquire technology absent the constraints placed upon it by the international community. The sunset clauses in the JCPOA begin to expire in 2024, and will fully expire in 2030. Beginning in 2024, the regime can accelerate its uranium production and remain in compliance with the JCPOA. Iran is already increasing its uranium production and stockpiles—in fact, it likely already has enough for a bomb right now. All of this activity is in violation of the JCPOA, yet the remaining deal signatories aren't demanding "snapback" sanctions or that Iran comply. They have the same ability as the U.S. to do so, and they are not doing so. What's more, the "snapback" mechanism to reimpose all preexisting sanctions on Iran expires in 2025. The U.S. has all the leverage it will never have again. The "maximum pressure" campaign worked and is still working—and it gives Biden all the leverage he needs to bring Iran to the table on its knees. The regime desperately needs an economic lifeline, and the recent deal with China won't be enough. If anything, Chinese investment of $400 billion in Iran over the next 25 years amounts to a very bad deal for the regime. If the Biden administration jumps back into the Iran nuclear deal without addressing undeclared sites, sunset clauses, ballistic missiles, regional behavior, terrorism and human rights, then it will have entered a worse deal than even the one in 2015. Iran must make concrete concessions before any U.S. favor. Period. But Iran cannot do this—if the regime makes any concessions on ballistic missiles, its funding of proxies or support for regional terrorism, it would collapse. That's how weak it is now.
The only ask of the Biden administration, at this time, is for Iran to simply go back to JCPOA compliance. The White House will then reward the regime, accordingly. Iran was already cheating at sites carved out of the JCPOA and denying and delaying International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to those sites. The IAEA has reported multiple violations at undeclared sites, and Iran has continued to obfuscate, delay and deny with impunity. The regime was cheating out in the open on existing UNSCRs pertaining to ballistic missile testing, funding terrorist organizations, providing lethal aid to proxies and various human rights violations. It created new militias to deploy to Syria, it increased its ballistic missile launches, provided lethal aid to the Houthis in Yemen, attacked the U.S. presence in Iraq and Syria, attacked U.S. allies in the region, and disrupted the Strait of Hormuz—all while extorting our European allies who were parties to the JCPOA.
Why would we expect Iran to comply in the shadows? Hope is not a method to contain a rogue regime.
U.S. reentry into the JCPOA will only help China and Russia. State Department Spokesman Ned Price stated last week that "Russia and China share our interests with the JCPOA, and the U.S. considers them partners." If that were true, where are the Russian and Chinese sanctions, and demands that Iran comply with the JCPOA?
Russia and China will benefit at the expense of the U.S., the region and the Iranian people themselves. There will be joint naval and military operations, defense pacts and a possible integrated S-400 missile system across Syria, Iraq and Iran. Iran would more easily be able to threaten U.S. allies Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The regime will be able to purchase offensive weapons and defense systems to protect its nuclear sites from possible U.S. and Israeli attacks. The regime will be able to fund the spreading of its revolution with U.S. taxpayer dollars. Investment in Iran amounts to support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Biden's Iran envoy, Rob Malley, believes Iran should enjoy the economic benefits promised in the JCPOA. If and when Biden gives Iran access to the U.S. dollar and the U.S. banking system, the regime will soon become a war-economy powerhouse—the strongest conventional military force backed by a tactical and strategic missile capability in the region. In the first term of the next U.S. president, Iran will become a weaponized nuclear power that acquired this harrowing capability under the protective ambit of the JCPOA itself.
If Biden caves, the Iranian regime will become an economic powerhouse, the strongest conventional military in the Middle East and a nuclear power with a ballistic missile nuclear arsenal. This is how weak the JCPOA is. The regime will rush to get all it can over the next four years—it will buy offensive weapons and defense systems to protect its illicit nuclear program, and it will increase its ballistic missile capabilities. And it will extort the West for even more concessions while it continues its path to a nuclear weapon. The Biden administration is taking an unserious position on a very serious issue. It's time to use U.S. leverage with Tehran. The mullahs need the deal more than we do.
Michael Pregent is a former intelligence officer specializing on Iranian terrorism and is currently a senior fellow at Hudson Institute.