Washington’s Negotiation with Iran: Rejoin the JCPOA?

President Joe Biden and Tehran have already begun negotiations to determine the path forward regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The negotiations center around the expiring Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal reached under the Obama administration. Previously, Biden expressed his desire to return to the 2015 JCPOA. Some of the JCPOA’s original authors from the Obama-era are back to work again inside Biden’s executive administration. However, if the Biden administration is serious about reigning in Iran’s desire to develop nuclear weapons, the United States needs to reject re-entering into the JCPOA. Returning to the terms outlined in the JCPOA will ultimately lead to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

If the United States decides to revive the dying JCPOA, the Obama-era agreement will do little to deter Iran. The JCPOA is set to expire soon, and organizations such as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies point to limitations inherent to the JCPOA. The JCPOA’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear weapons program are set to expire, even if the deal is re-entered. The hoped-for modernization of Iran that was supposed to occur as a consequence of the JCPOA agreement did not bear fruit, nor would it be likely to in the future. Additionally, United Nations-sponsored asset-freezes intended for supporters of Iran’s nuclear program are set to expire soon as well. Any plan to re-enter the agreement would not achieve anything beneficial to the United States or its allies.

It has already been revealed that Iran probably intends to maintain a secret nuclear weapons program, regardless of any agreement or treaty. Despite the JCPOA’s intentions, Tehran violated the agreement’s restrictions many times. Reports from Leading foreign policy think tanks such as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies indicate these violations included prohibited ballistic missile tests, importing illicit missile equipment, exporting weapons to militias in Iraq and Yemen, and other violations. Based on Iran’s behavior, it seems clear that Tehran did not intend to fully honor the JCPOA regardless of the international community’s disposition towards the agreement.

In response to the sunsetting nature of the JCPOA, Iran’s violations of the agreement, and other shortcomings, the Trump administration had re-postured the United States to a more restrictive and tougher stance toward Iran. This tougher stance included sanctions toward those who would help enable Iran’s procurement of nuclear weapons and related military equipment.

As the JCPOA currently stands, it is a good deal for Iran. It allows for nuclear weapons procurement in the near future and the easing of sanctions and restrictions. The deal provided Iran with financial relief for its struggling economy. The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign has been mitigating the Iranian regime’s ability to function as an effective government and may be able to produce significantly tangible benefits if it is maintained by the new president. According to policy institutes promoting the defense of democracy around the world, the best deal for the United States and its allies is to keep the pressure on Iran. Pushing forward existing stations will create further leverage over Tehran needed to negotiate the end of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and human rights abuses.

Keeping the pressure on Iran will require diplomatic effort. Rebuilding effective relationships in Europe and elsewhere in the world will enable a more effective and toughened stance on Iran. Biden’s administration has an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the United States will maintain its disposition of serious intent toward stopping Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities. This effort would be a difficult but necessary undertaking. As the provisions under the JCPOA approach their sunset, the Biden administration needs to take action to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.