United States officials have played down but not contradicted remarks by President Joe Biden calling the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “dead.”
Shortly before European Union foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell met Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Jordan Tuesday a video emerged on social media late Monday of Biden making the remark on a walkabout November in California during Congressional elections.
Asked about the president’s comments in a press briefing Wednesday, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, stopped short of endorsing them, saying it was “certainly the case that the Iranians killed the opportunity for a swift return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA.” Security spokesman John Kirby told journalists: “We simply don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon.”
Talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) floundered in late summer with Iran and the US unable to agree over its restoration. The US, which left the agreement in 2018 and imposed ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions, rejected some Iranian demands as extraneous and unacceptable, without saying what these were.
JCPOA serves ‘security of the whole region’
With the three western European JCPOA signatories – France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the ‘E3’ – close to the US position, diplomatic effort has come from the European Union. Borrell tweeted Tuesday that he had agreed with Amir-Abdollahian on the importance of keeping communications open to restore the JCPOA. In a statement to the United Nations Security Council Monday, Silvio Gonzato, the EU Chargé d’Affaires, said “diplomacy and restoring the JCPOA’s full implementation” were “still the best option” over nuclear non-proliferation and that restoring the JCPOA was “instrumental to the security of the whole region…”
Borrell’s tweet also “stressed need to immediately stop military support to Russia and internal repression in Iran,” so acknowledging the difficulty faced by the EU in maintaining nuclear diplomacy given Iran’s supply of military drones to Russia and its domestic unrest.
The ‘E3’ states were at one this week with the US in arguing at the UNSC that Iran’s supply of military drones violates UNSC Resolution 2231, which in endorsing the JCPOA banned the transfer to and from Iran of certain categories of weapons. Russia and Iran both reject the argument, which the UN is considering.
Wednesday's high-profile visit to Washington of Volodymyr Zelenskyy will see the Ukrainian President argue for more US arms – beyond the $20 billion Washington has supplied. Russia’s use of Iranian-made drones, while not a decisive factor in the war, has strengthened Ukraine’s case for more Western support.
‘Slap Tehran down’
JCPOA opponents in Washington and Israel increasingly deploy Iran-Russia defense links and Iran’s unrest to bolster their case. Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State as the US left the JCPOA, attacked Biden Saturday for any talks with a “brutal and corrupt regime.”Pompeo, who may run for president in 2024, spoke at a conference of the ‘Organization of Iranian American Communities,’ which is allied to the Albania-based Mujahideen-e Khalq.
Yonah Jeremy Bob, senior military correspondent, wrote in the Jerusalem Post Tuesday that UN action against Iran over the drones “could bring back unilateral sanctions crashing down on Iran,” referring to the hope that the alleged JCPOA violation by Iran would trigger US sanctions. This would, Bob argued, “slap Tehran down” and “flip the Biden administration’s policy…in one fell swoop.”
In his press briefing Tuesday, Price said the JCPOA “hasn’t been on the agenda for us for months.” Since September US focus had been both on “Iran’s deepening military partnership with Russia” and on “standing up for the fundamental freedoms of the Iranian people,” the spokesman said.
He agreed that the arrest of actor and “cultural icon” Traneh Alidoost was “part of the regime’s effort to sow fear and to suppress these peaceful protests.” The US has in recent months imposed additional sanctions on Iran over petrochemical exports, ‘human rights,’ and the supply of drones to Russia.