Jen Psaki’s Last Mention of a “Longer, Stronger” Iran Deal was 112 Days Ago
June 17, 2021 | Daniel Roth
The last time the White House Press Secretary affirmed President Biden’s pledge to get a “longer, stronger” nuclear deal with Iran was 112 days ago.
Responding to a question about the prospects for a better deal on February 24, Jen Psaki said: “[T]he President has been clear that if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations, we will do the same and, of course, then use that as the platform to build a longer and stronger agreement, including addressing ballistic missiles and many of the concerns that, as you noted, countries in the region, our European partners have about the actions of Iran.” Since then, however, Psaki has not repeated this robust and reasonable formula, and specific mentions of “longer, stronger” have vanished.
Today, four months later, the White House’s answer to the same question is unmistakably diluted. Asked expressly about the status of “longer, stronger” dialog on June 9, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan answered: “We don’t underestimate the difficulty of any nuclear negotiation with the Iranians, since we’ve been through them. But we do believe that there is scope for follow-on negotiations to deal with what — to build on the JCPOA once we are back in it. And we believe the Iranians will ultimately be prepared to engage in those negotiations.” So, instead of directly promising to secure a longer stronger deal, the White House has retreated to a mere “belief” that there is “scope for follow-on negotiations.” Instead of addressing ballistic missiles and Tehran’s malign activities, the White House has retreated to a vague impression that it will “build on the JCPOA once we [i.e. the United States] are back in it.”
And instead of the early demand that Iran must take the first step to come back into compliance, the White House was retreated to a synchronized return to the JCPOA involving both Iran and the U.S. - otherwise known as “mutual compliance.” Predictably, the shriveling of White House promises tracks with a corresponding wilting of State Department discourse over the same period. From February to May, mentions of “longer, stronger” declined from 19 to 3, while mention of “mutual compliance” rose from 0 to 28. Weaker rhetoric has paired with weaker actions. In short order, Washington has revoked the terrorist label on Tehran’s proxy Houthi group in Yemen, canceled UN “snap-back” sanctions on Iran, eased travel constraints on Iranian diplomats, declared its willingness to lift most if not all of Trump’s 1,000 or so sanctions not consonant with the JCPOA, and most recently, actually lifted a host of sanctions on individuals tied to Iran’s oil industry.
There is no getting around the fact that these actions are gestures of goodwill, concessions, and inducements aimed at Iran - no matter what State Department officials might say to the contrary. U.S. goodwill is of course not reciprocated by the Mullahs. In fact it is met with more JCPOA violations, provocations and anti-U.S. hostilities. Any hint of Iranian compromise simply does not exist. Tehran’s dispatch of a warship-flanked convoy of oil tankers - most likely carrying weapons - to President Maduro’s U.S.-sanctioned regime in Venezuela is only the most recent sign of confrontation over cooperation. The election of a new hardline Iranian President this week will merely reinforce Tehran’s non-concessionary stance.
Sadly this is all a long way from then candidate Joe Biden’s own assurance to “strengthen and extend” a deal and “address other issues of concern” in his September 2020 op-ed for CNN, “There’s a smarter way to be tough on Iran.”
Rather than conceding to the Mullahs and dissolving red lines to pink for the sake of simply getting a deal, President Biden and his White House team must remind themselves of their early pledges to the American people. While there are obvious differences in how long and how strong a new deal must be, the fundamental premise of extending and strengthening a deal has wide support from both sides of the aisle. President Biden and his team must revert, and quickly, to the original “longer, stronger” idea, for the current trajectory shows that the U.S. is willing to abandon any prospect of getting a better deal in favor of simply getting any deal.