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A Golden Opportunity to begin to reduce Middle East tensions: The Biden Administration should return the United States to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – Otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal

December 5, 2020

John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif named winners of the Chatham House Prize 2016 for the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Nuclear Deal).

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A campaign to that end is being spearheaded by a number of groups and individuals, among them the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the National Iranian American Council and J-Street. Parallel peace efforts are coming together all over the country, a first step towards reducing tensions in the Middle East and for putting a broader peace agenda – so missing in the recent presidential contest – back to center stage of American political life

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Returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action: a bright spot in an otherwise somber Biden Middle Eastern political vision.

One of the first major tests in foreign policy for the incoming Biden Administration will be their ability – or lack thereof – to steer the United States back into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly – and purposely misnamed the “Iran Nuclear Deal.” It will also be a test for this country’s peace movement. Can its diverse elements come together to give Biden the backbone he needs to accomplish the task? No doubt there will be intense opposition from the usual quarters to such an effort.

Looking at Biden’s new foreign policy team – not much there when it comes to the Middle East (Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan) working for a shift in U.S. policy towards reducing tensions – is going to be pretty much of an uphill battle. Yet despite the record of this team of Obama retreads, supporters of humanitarian intervention, enthusiasts for the overthrow of the Khadaffi government in Libya, for the partition of Syria and Iraq (de facto or de jure), there is one bright spot: they seem to be serious about the United State re-entering the JCPOA. This sector of power in America has come to the realization, reluctantly perhaps, but still, that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a fact today that will not go away nor will that governemt be overthrown by military means – there will be no repeat of the 1953 US engineered coup that overthrew the Mossadegh government.

As Iran has proven time and again, that intimidate and threats – as well as punishing sanctions won’t work, negotiated agreements with Iran is the only viable path. Furthermore, that despite attempts to characterize the Iranian government as authoritarian, anti-democratic, it is obvious that the overwhelming majority of Iranians have proven time and time again, that they stand with their government when it comes to the threat of foreign intervention.

No doubt this will be one of the primarly foreign policy fights of the Biden Administration and how it plays out could determine, in large measure the U.S. approach to overall Middle East politics during the Biden years. The powers that be, the ruling class – which for the most part pursues a bipartisan foreign policy when it comes to the Middle East – shows fissures when it comes to returning to the JCPOA. Generally speaking, Obama-like Dems support re-entry while the more militarist elements (Republicans, Netanyahu-type Zionists, Christian-Zionist wackos) are opposed.

Three points need to be emphasized about this agreement either misconstrued or purposely distorted in the media here in the United States:

  1. The JCPOA is not simply an agreement between the United States and Iran but an international agreement in which five parties were involved in its realization: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany.
  2. The essence of the agreement were that in exchange for Iran limiting the enrichment of uranium to 3.67% purity and dismantling 2/3 the number of its gas centrifuges for a fifteen month period, the United States and its European allies would life crippling economic sanctions against Iran. Iran complied but rather than decreasing or eliminating sanctions the United States – and the Europeans – intensified them, thus renigging on a basic part of the deal.
  3. For the agreement to have any legitimacy, the United States needs to re-enter the agreement without new conditions, that is accept the agreement as is. This must include serious steps towards the elimination of sanctions against Iran.

Trump and Pompeo: the monkey wrench throwers…

In a vindictive typically wreckless move meant to throw a bone to the Netanyahu government of Israel, Donald Trump withdrew U.S. participation in the agreement. In so doing Trump was trying to undo perhaps the only positive achievement of the Obama Administration  in the realm of U.S. Middle East policy. And now, in a last minute effort to throw a monkey wrench into any attempt for the Biden Administration to find a diplomatic path to re-enter the JCPOA, the Trump Administration taken a number of provocative steps. As reported in drips and drabs in the media, as the details of a recent meeting in W. Saudi Arabia surface, the Trump Administration, along with the Netanyahu government tried to get the Saudis to agree to an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear sites.

Well aware of the probable Iranian response to such an attack, Saudi Prince Salman demurred. The late November murder of Iranian nuclear engineer Mohsen Fakhrizahed and theTrump Administration further intensification of sanctions against Iran – as if there is anything left to sanction – was meant to draw Iran out in response, giving the United States and Israel – along with certain European allies – the pretext for military intervention that would have effectively killed the agreement. Iran didn’t take the bait. The Israeli media has all but admitted that Israel was behind the assassination and where Israel treads, Washington is right there with it.

A job to do – it’s getting harder. 

As University of Michigan scholar Juan Cole noted, all these Trump Administration hatched provocations are a part of a lame duck effort to sabotage Biden’s plans to rejoin the agreement. “It just got harder,” Cole wrote. Cole’s article is a good summary of the uphill battle to get the U.S. to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.Suspecting that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were the probable source of information leading to to the Fakrizahed assassination (and that of at least four other Iranian nuclear experts in past years), and in response to the assassination itself, the Iranian Parliament The passed a resolution a few days ago “threatening to kick out UN inspectors and to enrich uranium to 19.5% by February if the financial and trade embargo on Iran (put in place by the outgoing Trump administration) is not lifted by then. The Trump administration has reduced Iran’s oil exports from 2.5 million barrels a day of petroleum to less than 300,000 barrels a day, that is, by 88%, Cole commented.

During the period that the United States was a partner in the JCPOA, Cole notes further:

Iran did as it was asked and UN inspectors confirmed its complete compliance 2015-2018, and is still largely observing the JCPOA, though it has acted out in minor ways. However, it gave all that up for less than nothing, since in May, 2018, Trump breached the treaty and slapped the most severe trade and financial restrictions on Iran ever put imposed by one country on another in peace time, making it impossible for it to sell its petroleum or conduct ordinary international banking transactions. (Even at the height of his own severe sanctions in 2012-2014, President Obama had never gone that far).

The political struggle – and that is what it will be – to get the United States back into the JCPOA will not only be a test for the Biden Administration. It will be a major test for this country’s peace movement to re-assert its place and influence in the country’s political life. But JCPOA re-entry won’t happen without broad-based pressure from below. Coalitions of agreement supporters will have their work cut out for them and will need to act swiftly and assertively to help Joe Biden develop the spin necessary to succeed in this effort. Such an effort here in Colorado is taking shape as groups with differing agendas come together, finding common ground in the importance of the United States rejoining “the deal.” A campaign to that end is being spearheaded by a number of groups and individuals, among them the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the National Iranian American Council and J-Street. Parallel peace efforts are coming together all over the country, a first step towards reducing tensions in the Middle East and for putting a broader peace agenda – so missing in the recent presidential contest – back to center stage of American political life.

We have a job to do.

At the rally at the capitol steps in Denver…January 2020

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2020 5:36 am

    Iran would have to be crazy to negotiate with US regime ever again. Thankfully Rouhani is gone soon.

  2. December 5, 2020 10:45 pm

    Tell all of your readers more about organizing efforts in Colorado.

    • December 6, 2020 11:12 am

      Yes, definitely.. “Things” are coming together and when they do, which should be presently I will do so. But thanks for the encouragement. For now – considerable momentum for PEACE and against attacking Iran and for the U.S. to rejoint – without new conditions – the JCPOA. Needless to say – from my part mostly because of U.S. actions (dumping on more sanctions, the assassinations of Suleimani and Fakhizadeh) Trump is doing what he can to throw a monkey wrench into Biden presidency peace initiatives. So, yet another uphill battle. What else is new?

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