Antony Blinken, the new US Secretary of State, took his first official position on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the morning of Thursday, January 28, 2020. He stated, very categorically, that Iran must, first and foremost, fulfil its commitments, and only then, as President Joe Biden had already announced, would the United States of America return to the JCPOA.
“Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts, and it will take some time, should it make a decision to do so, to come back into compliance, and time for us to assess whether it’s meeting its obligations,” Blinken told the press. “So, we are not there yet, to say the least,” Blinken added.
The US Secretary of State went on to say that if Iran returned to the JCPOA, the United States would seek a “longer and stronger agreement” that would deal with other “deeply problematic” issues.
To summarize how Blinken characterises President Biden’s strategy on Iran, he basically means that first, Iran must return to the JCPOA, then, Iran’s return must be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in the long run. Only after the verification, and after Tehran’s assurance to enter into comprehensive negotiations such as missile and regional issues is guaranteed, would the US enter the JCPOA. In short, as Foreign Minister Javad Zarif interprets it, what Blinken is saying is simply Trump administration’s strategy in different words.
This stance may not be so strange, and it may even have buyers inside the United States, but it is strange for Iran and has bad consequences for Iranians. The premise of Blinken’s position is that with Trump’s tough sanctions against Iran, the United States is ahead of Iran in a three-nil football match, and now it is up to Iran to beg; therefore, America has nothing to lose.
However, this stance has three negative consequences.
First, it is a kind of neglect of the political dynamics inside Iran. There is a lot of pressure on the Rouhani government to leave the JCPOA completely. The Conservatives’ stringent policy towards the US now has a lot of buyers inside Iran, and they control important centres of power, such as the Parliament, the judiciary, the military, not to mention the country’s Commander-in-Chief.
Undoubtedly, Iran will not step forward in the implementation of the JCPOA as Blinken wishes; in fact, the recent ratification of the Iranian parliament will be implemented in the gradual withdrawal from the JCPOA. Meanwhile, Iran’s next presidential election is set for June 18 this year, and given current developments, the United States will face a conservative president like Mr. Ahmadinejad. Then it is probable that Iran leaves even the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In addition, the Conservatives’ insistence and Khamenei’s opinion that it makes no difference to Iran whether America is Democrat or Republican, is growing stronger. This will have a negative effect on the security of the United States as well because Iran surely will bring the nuclear breakout closer.
Another consequence is further complications in regional political equations. Continued US sanctions will discourage Iran’s cooperation in resolving regional crises such as Yemen, Syria, and Palestine. Moreover, Iran will try to strengthen militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and so on. Also, Iran will increase its use of pressure levers such as the Taliban, who are now negotiating in Tehran.
More importantly, tensions between Iranian and US forces in the Persian Gulf will increase and the shadow of war will continue to weigh upon the region. In other words, Iran will be completely disappointed with America’s diplomacy, and it will be enough to provoke an incident between the American and Iranian forces in the region which would be perfectly capable of igniting a war.
The third consequence is the psychological effects and the long-term historical image-making. According to recent polls, Iranian people are highly pessimistic toward the United States, especially following Trump’s policy of maximum pressure and the assassination of General Soleimani.
The Biden administration’s failure to redress this pessimism will reinforce the negative image of the United States and its policies, regardless of Democratic or Republican administrations, in the minds of the Iranians. As the gap of pessimism widens, no future statesman in Iran and the United States will be able to fill it. Ultimately, both countries, albeit unequally, will lose.
Dr Ali Omidi
Dr Ali Omidi is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Dept. of Political Science in University of Isfahan, Iran.
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