By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
On the surface, the Iranian leaders are pretending they are in no hurry to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. For example, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last month said in a speech, according to his official website: “We have no urge, no rush for America to return to the JCPOA. Our problem is not whether the United States will return to the JCPOA or not. Our rational demand is the lifting of sanctions.”
However, the reality on the ground is that the regime is on its knees and desperately needs to revive the nuclear deal. This desire to return to the nuclear deal and have sanctions lifted can be seen in the writings of Iran’s state-owned newspapers, which are connected to the hard-liners and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The Javan newspaper wrote: “The new (US) administration has spoken out on almost every issue in US foreign policy except the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the need to return to it, while Democrats and Republicans have been vocal about maintaining Donald Trump’s policy of maximum pressure.” It added: “Apparently there is no rush on the other side, in the Biden government. In his first phone call with Vladimir Putin, Biden spoke of issues such as Ukraine, Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2020 election, and the extension of the treaties, but did not say anything about the JCPOA or did not want it to be disclosed.”
The Iranian regime’s frustration is understandable, as it is facing one of the worst budget deficits in its four-decade history. The theocratic establishment is estimated to be running a $200 million budget deficit per week and, if the pressure on Tehran continues, the total deficit will be about $10 billion by next month. This huge deficit will increase inflation and devalue the currency even further.
The decrease in the country’s revenues directly impacts the regime’s hold on power, the IRGC and its affiliates, the Office of the Supreme Leader, and the regime’s associates, who control considerable parts of the economy and financial systems. The IRGC reportedly controls more than half of Iran’s gross domestic product and owns several major economic powerhouses and religious endowments, such as Astan Quds Razavi in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
Iran is also experiencing a significant shortfall in its funding for proxies and terror groups across the Middle East. This shortfall may be why, for the first time in more than three decades, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in 2019 made a public statement asking people to donate money to his group.
He said: “The sanctions and terror lists are a form of warfare against the resistance and we must deal with them as such. I announce today that we are in need of the support of our popular base. It is the responsibility of the Lebanese resistance, its popular base, its milieu (to battle these measures).”
The cash-stripped clerical regime is desperate to see sanctions lifted and for billions of dollars to flow into its treasury once again. This would allow it to provide revenue for the IRGC to escalate its military adventurism and projects in the region, which include financing, arming and supporting their terror and militia groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The Biden administration would be well advised not to rush back into the 2015 nuclear deal, which empowered and emboldened the Iranian regime and its militia groups and made the region much less safe, stable and secure.
It appears that all members of the nuclear agreement (Russia, China, the US, the UK, France, and Germany) want to rejoin the nuclear pact with Iran. But the Biden administration, along with France, the UK and Germany, must demand a much stricter agreement. They must recall that the JCPOA led to more Houthi rockets being launched at civilian targets, the deployment of Hezbollah foot soldiers in Syria, and more attacks by Iranian-funded Iraqi militia groups.
In a nutshell, the Iranian regime needed the nuclear deal to be restored yesterday, as it cannot keep going without it. The JCPOA signatories must learn from history, take their time, and demand a stricter deal with the Tehran regime this time around.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh