It only took thirty days for the Biden administration to announce it was ready to restart nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The decision came after a dizzying series of signals which telegraphed President Biden’s approaching decision: the removal of a foreign terrorist designation from Iran-supported Houthi terrorists in Yemen, a tepid American statement in response to a Shia militia attack in northern Iraq targeting U.S. personnel (and killing one American contractor), the lifting of travel bans on Iranian diplomats, and the decision to lift the Trump administration’s directive to “snap back” sanctions on Iran at the United Nations because Tehran failed to comply with their obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Now, it appears the U.S. has given up its main leverage—it’s re-entry into the nuclear deal—without demanding anything in return.
There’s a hint in an exchange that took place in May 2018, between Janes Wales, the CEO of World Affairs, and Robert Mallory, a chief Obama negotiator on the Iran deal currently serving as President Biden’s Special Envoy to Iran. Malley admitted in 2018 interview that President Obama intentionally left several critical issues out of the JCPOA negotiations entirely: Iran’s widely documented, aberrant and destabilizing regional activity, as well the regime’s grave human rights abuses within its own country—abuses nearly unparalleled in the world.
“The deal had one purpose and really only one purpose, which was to address the problem of Iran developing a nuclear program,” Malley said. And that purpose, from the Obama administration’s point of view, simply had “nothing to do with” the ballistic missile program and regional activity. The plan was to deal with these issues at a later date, and to “implement the deal in good faith,” then go back to Iran to give them more of what they wanted in exchange for additional concessions.
In other words, Iran was given no reason to stop their terrorist and other criminal activity throughout the Gulf, Europe and South America. The Ayatollahs could continue to spew their anti-Semitic bile denying the Holocaust and threatening a “Final Solution” against the state of Israel. And the regime could continue to kill their own citizens—Sunni Muslims, evangelical Christians, the Baha’i, gays, and even professional athletes who dared criticize the regime. They could continue to engage in hostage diplomacy, as they did as late as two weeks ago, kidnapping French and German citizens.
In other words, human rights, ballistic missiles, destabilizing and criminal activity were not the priority in the Iran nuclear deal and in fact they were not in the Iran deal at all.
Yet in 2021, the Islamic Republic is as weak as it has ever been. Its beleaguered citizens are fed up with the regime’s corruption, where billions are still diverted to prop up the reach of the Islamic Republic’s long terrorist arm while the Iranian people suffer. Despite Iran acting like it’s not interested in negotiations, the truth is Iran is desperate to get back in the deal with Europe and the United States to relieve the pressure on its society.
As Biden takes his next steps, he should recognize that Iran nuclear conundrum should not be about Democrats or Republicans. Nor should it be about about erasing Donald Trump‘s once and future legacy. It should be about degrading the capabilities of an ultimate global bad actor, a bad actor who relishes lying to your face with a double-talking sincerity sure to convince anyone who doesn’t want to be confused by the facts on the ground.
Candidate Biden indicated that a President Biden would not merely be a 2.0 Obama. It’s not too late to forge a bold path that yields real geo-political progress, reassures America’s historic allies, and gives some hope to the Iranian people that a better future could be on the horizon.
Here are three decisive moves the President can still make:
First, The U.S. did its part to end the war in Yemen. Now, Iran must end its involvement that local conflict which has escalated into a regional war and humanitarian disaster because of Iran’s malevolent activities. The Houthis, whose popular slogan goes “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews,” are an Iranian proxy. There is no war in Yemen without Iran supporting it.
Secondly, human rights in Iran must be on the table. Much of the Biden administration’s rhetoric on foreign policy has largely been fixated on human rights. The President has already punted on the Uighurs in China. To give the same hands-off signal about Iran’s human rights abuses signals to the world’s tyrants that they have little to fear from Washington.
Finally, negotiations on any conflict means that all stakeholders must have a seat at the table. The so-called P5+1 group needs to become a P5+1+6 group. The U.S. should demand neighbors who face an existential threat from a nuclearized Iran be given a seat at the table. That means that the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel must not be relegated to hearing about developments from Al Jazeera, the BBC, or CNN. Their very existence depends on the outcome of these talks.
The United States does not need a deal with Iran. Iran needs a deal with the United States. It’s time for the U.S. to lead—not from behind but upfront and out front.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean and director of the Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rev. Johnnie Moore is a commissioner on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom and the president of the Congress of Christian Leaders. They are the authors of The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ their own.