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Explaining Joe Biden’s Incompetent Iran Policy

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Nobody has been happy with President Joe Biden’s policy on Iran’s nuclear program and rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA. Biden’s Iran policy has been so rudderless and weak that it emboldened Tehran Iran to drastically expand its pursuit of nuclear weapons since he assumed office in January 2021.

Iran refused to negotiate in good faith during 17 months of talks to reach a new nuclear deal despite major concessions by the U.S. A deal that would have given Iran $1 trillion in sanctions relief by 2030 reportedly was close in late August, but crashed on September 1st when Iran provided a response that European and U.S. officials called “disappointing,” “not at all encouraging,” and a “step backwards.”A new round of nuclear talks with Iran are unlikely until after the U.S. mid-term elections.

Most observers expected more from the Biden administration since it has so many seasoned former Obama and Clinton Administration officials in senior posts who were involved in nuclear talks with Iran and North Korea. But the Biden administration has proved to be a far cry from the Obama administration. Love or hate his policies, President Obama was an ideological, bold, and crafty president. He and his senior foreign policy advisers were driven people who considered themselves visionaries. President Biden, unfortunately, heads a foreign policy team that has been listless, craven, and with constantly shifting objectives. Even many Democratic senators no longer believe or trust what the Biden administration says about its policy on Iran’s nuclear program.

A principal problem with Biden’s Iran policy has been his obsession with reversing President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA instead of building his own bolder and stronger vision.  Biden officials regularly condemn Trump’s decision and refuse to look at his many valid reasons for pulling the U.S. out of the 2015 deal, such as secret documents on Iran’s nuclear program stolen by Israel in 2018 that proved substantial cheating by Iran on the agreement.

Biden officials also will not concede that President Trump’s Maximum Pressure policy and the over 1,600 sanctions he imposed on Iran were a better approach than the U.S. remaining in the deeply flawed JCPOA. In addition, Biden officials have not let Iran’s refusal to cooperate with IAEA investigations of possible secret nuclear sites that violate the JCPOA block a new nuclear agreement.

For President Biden and his senior national security officials, reversing President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA is personal.

However, Biden’s policy on Iran during the first 19 months of his presidency has been muddled. Although Biden promised during the presidential campaign to immediately reverse President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, he did not do so when he became president because he was worried about the political blowback. Instead, Biden and his senior advisers made grandiose promises that the U.S. and Iran would simultaneously reenter the nuclear agreement and then negotiate a new deal that would be “longer and stronger” than the old one. Although Iran immediately rejected this approach, Biden officials talked about it for months until they were forced to admit this was impossible.

Biden officials constantly said a nuclear deal was near and that only weeks were left to reach an agreement. They said this so often that these predictions were ignored and mocked. For a short time, Biden officials promised a tough “Plan B” alternative to a new nuclear deal. But this promise was not sincere since it was followed a few months later by one-sided concessions that were so extreme that three members of Biden’s negotiating team in Vienna resigned and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez condemned the Biden administration’s entire Iran policy in a fiery floor speech in February.

So desperate were Biden officials to get a new nuclear deal with Iran that last spring it floated rationalizations for taking the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) off of the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. In addition, Biden officials reportedly offered to exempt Russia’s trade with Iran from sanctions related to its invasion of Ukraine to prevent Moscow from blocking a new nuclear deal with Iran.

Biden officials also would not let Iran’s continuing and increasing belligerence and provocations block their effort to get a new nuclear deal. This included enriching uranium to 60%, developing advanced centrifuges, physically harassing female IAEA inspectors, missile tests, attacks on and hijacking of oil tankers, and supporting missile attacks by the Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

This growing number of Iranian provocations, coupled with congressional opposition to U.S. concessions, forced the Biden administration in May 2022 to renounce the idea of taking the IRGC off the U.S. terrorist group list, and for U.S. Special Envoy Robert Malley to admit during a Senate hearing that the chances of reaching a new nuclear agreement with Iran “are tenuous at best.”

The August draft nuclear deal would have reimplemented the JCPOA over a period of 165 days. Iran was to receive concessions during this period as it met specific benchmarks. It reportedly was stalled over Iranian demands for more sanction relief, a guarantee that a future U.S. president would not withdraw from the agreement, and a halt to IAEA investigations of evidence of covert nuclear weapons work.

Many Members of Congress were upset at the financial windfall Iran would receive from this deal and its failure to halt Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, meddling in regional disputes, and Iran’s missile program. Several of them objected that the JCPOA’s short sunset clauses would remain and Iran would not give up its advanced centrifuges, which it developed in violation of the JCPOA.

A particularly sensitive issue for many Members of Congress is Iran’s rejection of language in the August deal to stop attempts to kill U.S. citizens. Congressional anger over this issue was in response to an August 10, 2022 indictment of an Iranian national for a plot to assassinate former National Security Council Adviser John Bolton, reported Iranian plots to kill other current and former U.S. officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and two attempts to kill or assassinate Iranian-American journalist and human rights activist Masih Alinejad from her home in New York City in late 2020 and July 2022.

As of now, the next steps to getting a new nuclear deal with Iran are uncertain. European states are pressing Iran to compromise, but U.S. and European officials are pessimistic about the nuclear talks because they believe the hardening of Iran’s demands raises doubts about its willingness to ever conclude a deal. However, I believe that due to President Biden’s obsession with reversing President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, his administration will continue to offer ever more generous – and dangerous – concessions to Iran to reach an agreement after the November mid-term election. Hopefully, Iran’s continued intransigence will prevent such a flawed agreement from even happening.

Expert Biography: Fred Fleitz is Vice Chair of the America First Policy Institute’s Center for American Security. He served in national security posts for 25 years with the CIA, DIA, State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee. In 2018, Fleitz was Chief of Staff of the Trump National Security Council.

Written By

Fred Fleitz is Vice Chair of the America First Policy Institute’s Center for American Security. He served in national security posts for 25 years with the CIA, DIA, State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee. In 2018, Fleitz was Chief of Staff of the Trump National Security Council.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Arash P

    September 14, 2022 at 5:50 pm

    Americans’ main problem regarding a “nuclear deal” with Iran is that many of them automatically assume that any deal with Iran means “caving in to the mullahs”!
    They assume that Iran needs a deal and Biden is being weak by trying to give that to them.

    The truth is different. Iran does not need a “nuclear deal”, Iran needs nuclear bomb!

    And Iran has all the domestic capabilities it needs to build the said bomb. So it is up to United States to offer Iran something valuable enough so that Iran not build the bomb.

    That is the reality of the situation whether you like it or not.

    US position however has been completely unacceptable to Iran.
    US demands Iran stop its nuclear work, ship out its hard earned nuclear material, not receive any compensation for 4 years of illegal “maximum pressure” sanctions, be continuously subject to IAEA probes and investigations and in return for all of that do not receive any guarantee that it will ever get any meaningful sanction relief!

    Oh and BTW, we will never put any pressure on your main regional adversary, Israel, to come clean regarding its own nuclear arsenal!

    Clearly, this is not a deal that is in the national interest of Iran and it will never be accepted. No country would ever agree to any such one-sided deal. Any negotiations going along the current lines are only for political show.

  2. Arash P

    September 14, 2022 at 5:52 pm

    Americans’ main problem regarding a “nuclear deal” with Iran is that many of them automatically assume that any deal with Iran means “caving in to the mullahs”!
    They assume that Iran needs a deal and Biden is being weak by trying to give that to them.

    The truth is different. Iran does not need a “nuclear deal”, Iran needs nuclear bomb!

    And Iran has all the domestic capabilities it needs to build the said bomb. So it is up to United States to offer Iran something valuable enough so that Iran not build the bomb.

    In other words, US needs a nuclear deal not Iran!

    That is the reality of the situation whether you like it or not.

    US position however has been completely unacceptable to Iran.
    US demands Iran stop its nuclear work, ship out its hard earned nuclear material, not receive any compensation for 4 years of illegal “maximum pressure” sanctions, be continuously subject to IAEA probes and investigations and in return for all of that do not receive any guarantee that it will ever get any meaningful sanction relief!

    Oh and BTW, we will never put any pressure on your main regional adversary, Israel, to come clean regarding its own nuclear arsenal!

    Clearly, this is not a deal that is in the national interest of Iran and it will never be accepted. No country would ever agree to any such one-sided deal. Any negotiations going along the current lines are only for political show.

  3. 403Forbidden

    September 14, 2022 at 8:31 pm

    America (and British intelligence) violently and illegally overthrew the legitimate government of the day in 1953 to install the shah a puppet of washington.

    Then America tried to do a daring military operation in April 1980 (it failed).

    Today, America still keen to do Iran in and turn it into a Libya or Yemen.

    Since when did America get the right to do such things.

    Since wiping out the native Indian nations of northern hemisphere ???

  4. L'amateur d'aéroplanes

    September 15, 2022 at 4:31 am

    It’s the USA’s sole FAULT that we’ve come to an impasse right now. What government can take the word of a nation that breaks its word with every change in the presidency? Who the moron who unilaterally broke the previous agreement concluded with all the great powers signed by Obama?

  5. Joe Comment

    September 15, 2022 at 10:06 am

    Arash P: The problem is, Iran is in the non-proliferation treaty and is already obligated to refrain from a nuclear arsenal. Without that, Iran would not have access to the raw materials for its nuclear program. So it’s a real political problem to give Iran extra benefits for what it is already obligated to do in exchange for benefits it has already received. For example, Belgium is not building nukes; how would you feel if Belgium asks Iran for a massive payment to continue doing so?

  6. Millie

    September 15, 2022 at 12:37 pm

    @Joe Comment
    You should read article 10 of NPT. It says when a member of NPT is being threatened, they are automatically allowed to build the bomb. In other words Iran should build its nuclear arsenal BECAUSE Iran is in NPT.

  7. Arash P

    September 15, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    Joe Comment:

    1- NPT is formed on voluntary basis. Its not a commitment to perpetual bondage!
    It is within Iran’s rights to leave it at anytime.
    Iran is a non-nuclear country being threatened with military action by a much larger, nuclear armed state, constantly. That is ground for invoking article 10 of NPT.
    Moreover, according to NPT, US and others were obliged to de-nuclearize. They have failed to do so for 50 years. So Iran is not the only party that has not fulfilled its NPT obligations.

    2-Regarding “benefits Iran has already received”, Like what? Iran has its own Uranium mines. Iran obtained its own centrifuges secretly and developed them further. Iran built its own heavy water reactor.
    But again, you want to keep looking back at history. Treaties don’t work that way. If Iran or any country judges that a treaty is no longer in its national interest, it can withdraw from it. The fact is, even if Iran did in past, it no longer needs any assistance from abroad for its nuke program. Therefore, there is no benefits to be had in staying in NPT.

    3-If Belgium asks Iran for payment for not building nukes I would tell them go ahead!
    We don’t own the world. We don’t have exclusive license to any technology or laws of physics!
    In fact, If you are not in any powerful military alliance that guarantees your sovereignty and territorial integrity, then you would be a fool to not build nukes!

  8. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    September 15, 2022 at 1:04 pm

    Dementia Joe is just going forward with Obama’s failed deal. Iran is a godless, evil regime that lies to advance its ultimate goal of ushering in the 12th Iman, the Mahdi by destroying Israel and the West. You cannot remove Islam from Iran’s foreign policy – it is integral to everything they do – and Islam says it is acceptable to lie (and literally everything else) in order to fulfill prophecy. Anyone not understanding this basic, simple truth is doomed.

  9. Froike

    September 15, 2022 at 3:11 pm

    Incompetent Iranian Policy? Every damned Policy of The Vegetable POTUS is incompetent!

  10. GhostTomahawk

    September 15, 2022 at 3:22 pm

    What is the Iran deal really?

    A half hearted promise by Iran to not develop nuclear bombs for a couple years so they can enrich themselves thru the removal of economic sanctions? Essentially when the deal expires they will build more advanced nuclear weapons via the treasury they acquired under the deal. 🤣😅😂😅😆🤣😂😅😆😂😅😅😆🤣😅😂🤣😆😆🤣.

    Let them build these things and let Israel blow them up like they seemingly always do. I trust Israel to handle business in that region. Let’s get feckless Neville Chamberlain wannabes out of the drivers seat and watch the tactical strikes on C-SPAN.

  11. Joe Comment

    September 16, 2022 at 1:18 am

    Arash P: Iran has definitely been importing uranium and other restricted nuclear energy related products, as it can under the treaty. Yes, it can withdraw from the treaty, but if it already has that intention, it means it has been making those imports under false pretenses and that’s a problem for the world.

    The US and USSR did make major cuts in their nuclear arsenal down from their peak levels, although yes, the progress has been slow and difficult. I don’t think many would agree that means everyone else should give up all restraints in the nuclear field.

    Yes, some US politicians have threatened Iran, but mainly because of Iran’s nuclear program itself, so it’s hard to argue that as Iran’s justification.

    But your answer reveals that you basically don’t believe in nuclear non-proliferation. If this is nothing but a street fight, does it mean Iran’s foes should supply nuclear weapons to rebel groups who want to overthrow Iran’s current government? You wouldn’t see a problem with that and even say they’d be crazy not to?

    It’s important to remember that we are talking about nuclear weapons here. There are excellent reasons for all the taboos around this type of weapon. This is not just because people don’t like Iran. It’s much more because we don’t believe that the more countries have these weapons, the better.

  12. Arash P

    September 16, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    Joe Comment:

    1-Yes, Iran has benefitted from NPT in the past and has returned the benefit by not making nukes!
    Again, NPT is not a promise of perpetual bondage. It is a promise of exchange of obligations and privileges as long as it suits parties involved.
    Any country has the right to withdraw from it at any time. Especially if they are constantly threatened like Iran by two nuclear states, US and Israel.

    2-No, US threats against Iran are not solely due to the nuclear issue. If Iran gives up its nuclear capabilities, those threats will NOT go away. US has been threatening Iran with “regime change” from the very beginning.
    Also, Libya is a perfect example of what US does to a country that de-nuclearizes. Even though Libya de-nuclearized and opened up to the west, US destroyed it the first chance it got. The country is still a failed state after 10 years.

    3-I believe in nuclear non-proliferation, Only after my country, Iran, acquires all aspects on nuclear weapons technology!
    If you are not interested in seeing an “increase” in the number of nuclear states, there is an easy solution for that. Pressure your government to de-nuclearize and open up a spot for Iran!
    I don’t see any meaningful pressure by UK, France and US public to de-nuclearize their countries, not to mention Israel. Perhaps nukes are not something that only evil people would like to have!

    You see, You are not interested in seeing your own country being disarmed and defenseless, same goes for me!

  13. Joe Comment

    September 16, 2022 at 6:14 pm

    Arash P: The deal is not “We get to load up on nuclear components as long as we wait a bit before using them to make bombs.” The deal is “We get to load up on nuclear components that we don’t intend to use to make bombs.” If Iran is now planning to do so, the treaty means nothing.

    The US threatened Iran from the beginning? Example please? For the record, I happen to agree that the NATO intervention in Libya was a mistake, but Libya was already falling apart on its own, and there was an International Criminal Court warrant against Kaddaffi. Are you expecting something similar to happen in Iran? If so, maybe Iran needs to have a better quality government.

    For a few years after the end of WWII, the US had a monopoly on nuclear weapons but did not use them. At the same time, the USSR was forcibly turning all the countries of Eastern Europe into satellites. Imagine what it could have been like if the US instead had unilaterally disarmed and the USSR acquired the nuclear monopoly. In that case, probably even Iran today would be a Soviet socialist republic.

    So yes, I strongly prefer nuclear disarmament, but there are complicated conditions attached. But I do not see Iran as a country that needs nuclear bombs to help keep the balance against the great dictatorships of the world. Do you? Based on what?

  14. Arash P

    September 17, 2022 at 3:27 am

    Joe Comment:

    I will only respond to your last question because that would be the most important.

    “I do not see Iran as a country that needs nuclear bombs to help keep the balance against the great dictatorships of the world. Do you? Based on what?”

    Iran was invaded and occupied twice, during both world wars, by allied forces, despite declaring and maintaining neutrality. Iran was their “bridge to victory”!
    In WWII occupation, Brits confiscated all motor vehicles in Iran to facilitate their logistical aid operation to soviets through Iran. As the result, the entire food distribution system collapsed, largest famine in Iran modern history followed which resulted in more than a million death.

    More recent example, Saddam’s Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 when we were down, due to the chaos of revolution. Iraq was supported by Soviets and France from the beginning and after few years by the US. They even gave him chemical weapons. I myself have seen Iranian veterans who were scarred from chemical attacks years later.
    Saddam’s stated goal was annexing oil rich Kuzestan. He even published new maps with new names given to our cities.
    Where was the international outrage?!
    There was such a shameless silence that Saddam thought he can invade any country without any backlash and that’s why he later invaded Kuwait. THAT of course was not acceptable by the US!
    Invading those Iranians is one thing, invading Kuwait, that’s a no no!

    You see, I know my history. We are as entitled to defend ourselves as any other country and thank God we have leadership in charge who understand what the priorities should be!

  15. Joe Comment

    September 18, 2022 at 9:13 am

    Arash P: The examples given sound like they were problems for Iran only. Then you’re simply arguing that every country, even every armed political group in the world, should have nuclear weapons. I would say to you, be careful what you wish for.

    But, let’s go through them one by one. True, before the nuclear era, Russia, Britain and Germany treated Iran as a war front in the two world wars and the results were bad for Iran. This was before the nuclear era, and none of the countries involved had nuclear weapons.

    This ended with the crisis of 1946 when the British withdrew but USSR did not, until the US pressure got them out. Did Iran need its own nuclear weapons for that? It would have used them to help which other country besides itself? Then do you think Serbia and Poland, the attacks on whom began WWI and WWII resp., need nuclear weapons too?

    Next, we have the Iran-Iraq war. True, Iran found itself without international friends. You should understand the reasons, but I can go into details if you really don’t. But again this ended with the Gulf War of 1991 when the US got Iraq out of Kuwait. Again, did Iran need its own nuclear weapons for that? Then it means you believe Kuwait also needs nuclear weapons?

    Given this discussion, where does it end? Can you name a single country in the world which you believe does not need nuclear weapons?

  16. A Rash

    September 18, 2022 at 11:11 am

    Arash P has a problem with repeating the same comment.

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