Under the Biden administration, the “worst deal ever” is getting even worse. When President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), he rightfully called it “the worst deal ever” because of its many serious flaws. But now, the Biden administration is close to announcing a new agreement to reinstate the JCPOA that is not only weaker but puts Russia in charge.
Making this worse, Russia is trying to exploit its prominent role in the new agreement by demanding that Russian trade with Iran — much of it weapons-related — be exempted from tough global sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday claimed the Biden administration conceded on this issue.
The agreement was put on hold last week, responding to Russia’s demand. However, many experts believe Russia wants to kill the new nuclear deal to keep oil prices high by preventing Iran from increasing oil exports. According to the Financial Times, Iran could export an additional 2 million barrels of oil per day under the new agreement.
President Joe Biden was determined as a presidential candidate to immediately reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA if he won the election. However, when he became president, this proved problematic due to Iranian intransigence. During negotiations over the last year, Tehran’s representatives refused to negotiate in good faith and would not meet directly with U.S. diplomats.
Iran also engaged in belligerent behavior that should have derailed the nuclear talks over the last year, including a huge surge in its nuclear program and ballistic missile tests. In addition, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, an Iranian terrorist proxy, expanded their attacks on foreign targets over the last year by striking Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with missiles and drones provided by Iran.
Over the weekend, Iran fired a dozen ballistic missiles at a U.S. consulate in Irbil in northern Iraq. Moreover, earlier this month it was reported that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps had been plotting to assassinate former National Security Advisor John Bolton. As a result, Bolton was provided with enhanced Secret Service protection in January. Biden administration officials reportedly tried to keep this plot under wraps to prevent it from interfering with their Iran deal efforts.
Unable to meet directly with Iranian officials at nuclear talks in Vienna over the last year, the Biden administration outsourced negotiations to Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov. Ulyanov recently bragged how he managed to negotiate a much better deal for Iran than he expected in cooperation with his Chinese counterpart.
This agreement is astonishingly bad. It lifts sanctions on Iranian terrorists and terrorist organizations, including the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran will receive an estimated $90 billion in sanctions relief and an additional $50 billion in extra revenue each year from higher oil exports.
Iran also will get a large cash payment when $7 billion in frozen Iranian assets held in South Korea is released to free four Americans falsely imprisoned by Iran. This payment amounts to ransom and is no different than the $1.7 billion “planeloads of cash” ransom the Obama administration paid Iran as part of the JCPOA to free four Americans from an Iranian prison in 2016.
Provisions of the new nuclear deal will be much weaker than the already weak JCPOA. Iran reportedly will be permitted to enrich uranium to 20 percent uranium-235 instead of the previous level of 3.67 percent. The new level is significantly closer to weapons-grade nuclear fuel. Iran also will be required to dismantle but not destroy most of its new, more advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.
There are more serious problems with the new agreement. Nothing will be done in the new deal to address the short duration of the JCPOA due to its “sunset clauses.” Sanctions on Iran’s missile program will still expire in 2023. Limitations on advanced centrifuges begin to expire in 2024; they all go away in 2028. Most other JCPOA restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program end in 2030.
A significant obstacle to a new nuclear agreement relates to revelations made public over the past four years of covert Iranian nuclear weapon sites and Iran’s refusal to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to investigate them. The new deal gets past this problem with a “roadmap” agreement, under which Iran will answer the IAEA’s questions about undeclared nuclear sites and activities.
Sanctions relief supposedly will only be provided if Iran provides honest and complete explanations. However, as they did when this process was used in the past, the United States and the IAEA are likely to accept any Iranian explanation to close the file on this issue.
The most troubling U.S. concession is a provision under which Iran will continue to enrich uranium. Like the JCPOA, the new agreement is expected to require Iran to send this enriched uranium (except for 300 kg) to Russia. Iran will then be provided an equivalent amount of uranium ore. This arrangement allows Iran to perfect its ability to produce nuclear fuel — including weapons-grade fuel.
But this arrangement is even worse because of an understanding that will return Iran’s enriched uranium if a future U.S. president withdraws from the new nuclear deal. This reprehensible agreement is intended to punish any future U.S. president who withdraws from the new nuclear agreement.
Opposition to Deal
The new nuclear deal has attracted considerable opposition. Three senior Biden administration negotiators were so concerned about U.S. concessions to Iran to strike a new agreement that they resigned in January. This included Richard Nephew, the deputy special envoy for Iran and a top member of the Obama administration team that negotiated the JCPOA in 2015.
During a recent visit to Israel, former Vice President Mike Pence said a future Republican president would quickly rip up any new nuclear deal negotiated by the Biden administration. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has warned the agreement will result in a “more violent, more volatile Middle East.”
If it is implemented, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, recently said the nuclear deal would be “a massive win for Vladimir Putin.” Cruz and other members of Congress have vowed to block the agreement unless it is sent to Congress for approval under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, said in a February 1 floor speech that the JCPOA cannot be salvaged and called for strict enforcement of U.S. sanctions on Iran, a halt to centrifuge research and development, and pressing Iran to cease uranium enrichment.
Twenty-one members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to President Biden on March 10 raising serious concerns about the pending nuclear deal, especially lifting terrorist sanctions, and warned: “We will review any agreement closely, but from what we currently understand, it is hard to envision supporting an agreement along the lines being publicly discussed.”
The bottom line is this: The world is facing a potential new Iran nuclear deal negotiated by Russia and China on America’s behalf that is even weaker than President Obama’s JCPOA deal, lifts sanctions on Iranian terrorists, provides Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, pays Iran a $7 billion ransom to free Americans falsely imprisoned in Iran, and sabotages any future president who withdraws from this agreement.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov claimed on March 14 that the United States gave Russia “written guarantees” exempting Russian trade with Iran from recent Ukraine-related sanctions. Let’s hope the Biden administration did not actually make such a spineless offer, since Russia’s demand for a sanctions exemption is the only thing stopping the new, deeply flawed nuclear deal from going forward.
It is hard to fathom the level of national security incompetence by the Biden administration that led to this fiasco. And this president has been in office just over a year.