From Smirking Chimp
By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies
As Congress still struggles to pass a COVID relief bill, the rest of the world is nervously reserving judgment on America's new president and his foreign policy, after successive U.S. administrations have delivered unexpected and damaging shocks to the world and the international system.
Cautious international optimism toward Biden is very much based on his commitment to Obama's signature diplomatic achievement, the JCPOA or nuclear agreement with Iran. Biden and the Democrats excoriated Trump for withdrawing from it and promised to promptly rejoin the deal if elected. But Biden now appears to be hedging his position in a way that risks turning what should be an easy win for the new administration into an avoidable and tragic diplomatic failure.
While it was the United States under Trump that withdrew from the nuclear agreement, Biden is taking the position that the U.S. will not rejoin the agreement or drop its unilateral sanctions until Iran first comes back into compliance. After withdrawing from the agreement, the United States is in no position to make such demands, and Foreign Minister Zarif has clearly and eloquently rejected them, reiterating Iran's firm commitment that it will return to full compliance as soon as the United States does so.
Biden should have announced U.S. re-entry as one of his first executive orders. It did not require renegotiation or debate. On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders, Biden's main competitor for the Democratic nomination, simply promised, "I would re-enter the agreement on the first day of my presidency."
Then-candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said during the Democratic primary, "We need to rejoin our allies in returning to the agreement, provided Iran agrees to comply with the agreement and take steps to reverse its breaches ..." Gillibrand said that Iran must "agree" to take those steps, not that it must take them first, presciently anticipating and implicitly rejecting Biden's self-defeating position that Iran must fully return to compliance with the JCPOA before the United States will rejoin.
If Biden just rejoins the JCPOA, all of the provisions of the agreement will be back in force and work exactly as they did before Trump opted out. Iran will be subject to the same IAEA inspections and reports as before. Whether Iran is in compliance or not will be determined by the IAEA, not unilaterally by the United States. That is how the agreement works, as all the signatories agreed: China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union -- and the United States.
So why is Biden not eagerly pocketing this easy first win for his stated commitment to diplomacy? A December 2020 letter supporting the JCPOA, signed by 150 House Democrats, should have reassured Biden that he has overwhelming support to stand up to hawks in both parties.
But instead Biden seems to be listening to opponents of the JCPOA telling him that Trump's withdrawal from the agreement has given him "leverage" to negotiate new concessions from Iran before rejoining. Rather than giving Biden leverage over Iran, which has no reason to make further concessions, this has given opponents of the JCPOA leverage over Biden, turning him into the football, instead of the quarterback, in this diplomatic Super Bowl.
American neocons and hawks, including those inside his own administration, appear to be flexing their muscles to kill Biden's commitment to diplomacy at birth, and his own hawkish foreign policy views make him dangerously susceptible to their arguments. This is also a test of his previously subservient relationship with Israel, whose government vehemently opposes the JCPOA and whose officials have even threatened to launch a military attack on Iran if the U.S. rejoins it, a flagrantly illegal threat that Biden has yet to publicly condemn.
In a more rational world, the call for nuclear disarmament in the Middle East would focus on Israel, not Iran. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in the Guardian on December 31, 2020, Israel's own possession of dozens -- or maybe hundreds -- of nuclear weapons is the worst kept secret in the world. Tutu's article was an open letter to Biden, asking him to publicly acknowledge what the whole world already knows and to respond as required under U.S. law to the actual proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Instead of tackling the danger of Israel's real nuclear weapons, successive U.S. administrations have chosen to cry "Wolf!" over non-existent nuclear weapons in Iraq and Iran to justify besieging their governments, imposing deadly sanctions on their people, invading Iraq and threatening Iran. A skeptical world is watching to see whether President Biden has the integrity and political will to break this insidious pattern.
The CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), which stokes Americans' fears of imaginary Iranian nuclear weapons and feeds endless allegations about them to the IAEA, is the same entity that produced the lies that drove America to war on Iraq in 2003. On that occasion, WINPAC's director, Alan Foley, told his staff, "If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so" -- even as he privately admitted to his retired CIA colleague Melvin Goodman that U.S. forces searching for WMDs in Iraq would find, "not much, if anything."
What makes Biden's stalling to appease Netanyahu and the neocons diplomatically suicidal at this moment in time is that in November the Iranian parliament passed a law that forces its government to halt nuclear inspections and boost uranium enrichment if U.S. sanctions are not eased by February 21.
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