Geopolitics

Biden And Iran: The If, When And How Of Reopening Nuclear Talks

Iran's clerical regime is boosting its military and nuclear activities, perhaps in a bid to bolster its position ahead of possible talks to revive the 2015 nuclear pact.

In Tehran on Dec. 30
Ahmad Ra'fat

-Analysis-

LONDON — Donald Trump is just hours away from ending his term in the White House, and once the Democrat Joseph Biden is sworn in as president — tomorrow, Jan. 20 — his team is expected to begin working almost immediately. That's assuming the Senate approves Biden's choice of secretaries, which seems likely as Democrats have a majority now in both houses of Congress.

Biden's main foreign policy coordinators will be Anthony Blinken, his choice for secretary of state, Jake Sullivan, the next national security adviser, and William Burns as head of the CIA. All three participated in forging the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and the 5+1 Powers.

Burns is an experienced diplomat who led secret talks with the Islamic Republic under President Barack Obama, to which he devotes a chapter of his book The Back Channel. Iran's president at the time was the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The nuclear "troika"

The choice of this "troika" suggests that Biden is likely to return to the pact, which the United States abandoned in 2018 under President Donald Trump. The question now is: Which is the proper route back to negotiations. Also, when would these begin? U.S. officials and diplomats have not yet given a date for a resumption of talks, in spite of reiterating their support for the pact in principle.

Other signatory states — Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have also been mum on the timing or possible road map back to the pact, though they have urged that the United States return to the fold.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, wants this to be done by mid-February, as Iran's recent violations of its obligations would, he believes, make a later revival of the pact very difficult. Notably, on Dec. 2, Iran's parliament voted for its bill on Strategic Measures to Suspend Sanctions, obligating the government to immediately resume 20% uranium enrichment.

A member of the Iranian Parliament's presiding board, Ahmad Amirabadi-Farahani, told state television days ago that Biden had one month after taking office to "lift banking and oil sanctions, or the Islamic Republic will, on February 21, stop implementing the Additional Protocol" (to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), and expel IAEA inspectors from Iran. This, he said, "is the law, and the government is obligated to enact it."

Iran is strengthening its hand.

In spite of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's declaration that Iran is in "no hurry" to return to the pact, Iran's presidential chief of staff, Mahmud Va'ezi, has voiced optimism that President Hassan Rouhani would hand over the country to the next government without any sanctions. He told the official Iran newspaper that the government was already acting to have "America's unilateral sanctions on Iran lifted." The Rouhani government has even drafted the next budget (for the Persian year beginning on March 21, 2021) based on the projected daily sales of over 2 million barrels of crude, and sent the text to parliament.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps at an undisclosed underground base in Iran — Photo: Salampix/Abaca/ZUMA

In recent weeks, Biden and his team have made contradictory declarations on the issue of talks with Iran. Perhaps a firm decision has yet to be taken. It is not even clear whether or not the United States will talk with Iran, even if it does fully comply again with the NPT. It may seek to include two other dossiers in negotiations: Iran's ballistic program and its regional policies.

Treaty violations

Iran is, in turn, strengthening its hand. Khamenei's foreign policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, said days ago that "if there is another round of negotiations' the "snapback" mechanism, which allows the Powers to immediately reimpose sanctions in case of violations, must be ditched. This "trigger," he said, was included in the 2015 pact against Khamenei's wishes.

The Islamic Republic has been clocking up treaty violations in recent weeks, as the IAEA and satellite pictures confirm: from 20% enrichment, activities at the Fordu plant and production of uranium metal at a center in Isfahan, to construction of new, underground installations at the Natanz site.

Israel will do what it must to defend itself if Biden reaches a deal with Iran.

he Islamic Republic is also expanding military activities in a bid to intimidate the region and pressure the Biden administration. These include sending missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, two naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea and an underground missile base near the Persian Gulf, as pictures have shown.

Israeli threats

The regime's military and nuclear reactivation in recent weeks, and the possibility of a deal with the Biden administration, are undoubtedly of concern to certain regional states, especially Israel. Its ambassador at the UN has urged an extraordinary session of the Security Council to discuss the Iranian nuclear program's dangers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also sent the head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen, to Washington for talks with the Biden team. Israel, which considers the Iranian regime a threat to itself and to Middle East stability, wants Biden to adopt harsher positions toward the regime and its regional policies, even if he does adhere to the pact.

Israel's former Labor prime minister Ehud Barak has warned in turn that Israel will do what it must to defend itself if Biden reaches a deal with Iran. Defense Minister Benny Gantz believes Israel must ready a military option, and according to the paper Israel Hayom, the armed forces have been presenting the cabinet with three, as yet unspecified, options against Iran.

In the meantime, Israeli jets have pursued strikes on the Syrian positions of the Revolutionary Guards and Iran-backed militias, the last of which is reported to have killed 50 Iranian soldiers and allied militiamen.

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Over the past week thousands of migrants have arrived at the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the United States. According to Del Rio's mayor, border patrol agents are struggling to process new arrivals, with about 4,000 migrants currently waiting.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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