By Arab News
By Dalia Al-Aqidi *
Iran has been dominating the news over the past month. It all started with the recent conflict between Lebanon and the Gulf states over controversial televised comments made by Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi. Even though Kordahi’s remarks were made a month before he became a member of a Christian party allied to Hezbollah, the Gulf countries are fed up dealing with a nation controlled by an Iranian proxy.
In Iraq, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on Sunday survived an assassination attempt made using Iranian-made drones while he was at his residence in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. The attack followed direct threats made by pro-Iran Shiite militia leader Qais Al-Khazali of the Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq group, which is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US.
Meanwhile, debates on whether the Biden administration should revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, continue in Washington.
Members of the Republican Party have accused President Joe Biden of ignoring the hostile attitude of the Iranian regime toward the US and its allies abroad in order to fulfill his campaign promise of returning to the JCPOA.
A US garrison at Al-Tanf in Syria was last month attacked by a drone, while an Israeli-managed commercial oil tanker was targeted in the Gulf of Oman in July. Tehran has been accused of being behind both attacks.
Seventeen Republican lawmakers last week sent a letter to the White House urging the president to desist from continuing diplomatic talks with Tehran and not to reward Iran for its violent behavior. They said Biden was sending a dangerous message to America’s friends and adversaries alike that Washington is willing to lift sanctions and negotiate with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism as it attacks their country, in reference to the Al-Tanf attack.
“This attack is yet another reminder that your administration is setting the wrong priorities by working to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal. If Iran is willing to engage in this kind of behavior while negotiations are still ongoing, imagine the respect they will have for any agreement once the ink is dry,” the letter read. It added that the administration continues to weaken America’s ability to combat the Iranian regime by lifting sanctions.
The Vienna talks are set to resume on Nov. 29 after a five-month break, during which new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took office. How strongly he desires a deal remains to be seen, but Tehran will continue pursuing its nuclear efforts in the meantime.
Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, emphasized that Washington should not reward Iran for continuing to violate the nuclear deal, warning of sending Tehran the wrong signal. “The Biden administration has to walk a fine line between demonstrating to Iran that Tehran will benefit from sanctions relief if the deal is restored, while not giving in to Iranian leverage,” she said.
While Tehran seeks the lifting of all sanctions, this month’s decision by the US Treasury Department to impose sanctions on two Iranian entities and four individuals makes it clear that this option will not be available, which should push Iran to soften its language. Would it consider that? Absolutely not.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian criticized the US decision on Twitter, writing: “The White House calls for negotiations with Iran and claims to be ready to return to the JCPOA. Yet it simultaneously imposes new sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities. The purpose of negotiations is not talking for the sake of talking, but to achieve tangible results on the basis of respect for mutual interests.”
So how should the Biden administration deal with the Iranian nuclear file? With the support of the Republicans, the president should abandon his campaign promise to revive the deal and explain the decision to his base by highlighting all the Iranian atrocities against the US, its allies and the millions of innocent people around the world, while tightening the sanctions on the Tehran government.
Learning from Iraq, forced government change from outside will not benefit either country. However, the US supporting regime change would give the Iranian opposition inside the country motivation for demonstrations and civil disobedience. It almost happened in 2009 and it could happen again in 2021.
Biden needs to find the courage to take a stand against the people that are pushing him to sign a new deal with Iran.
*Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi