For Iran, Biden is cut from the same cloth as Trump

Different, but just in details

October 19, 2020 - 22:51

TEHRAN – As U.S. election debates heat up, so does the speculation over which candidate will be better for Iran. While some foreign commentators claim that a certain candidate would be better for Iran, analysts and officials in Iran say there is no difference between the policies of Donald Trump and Joe Biden toward Iran.

“Whether Trump or Biden becomes president, there will be no difference in the main policy of harming the Iranian nation,” said Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the speaker of Iran’s parliament on September 20, adding, “Therefore, we need to concentrate on empowering the Iranian nation.”

Kamal Kharrazi, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, has also echoed the same assessment, saying Iran doesn’t care about who will win the U.S. November election.

“For Iran, it does not matter who will be elected in November, for us, American policies will be the criterion. Of course, Trump's presidency was important because the nature of America became clear to the world. Today, the absurdity of Americans' deceptive slogans and their instrumental use of international institutions against others has become clear to everyone,” the council quoted Kharrazi as saying on September 19.

However, Trump and his supporters have sought to portray Biden as Iran’s favorite candidate that if he wins the election, Iran will “own America.” Trump said on many occasions that he was willing to make a deal with Iran, but Democrats, namely former Secretary of State John Kerry, have dissuaded Iran from holding talks with the Trump administration until after a Democrat president moves into the White House.
 
“What they [Iran] should do is be smart and make a deal. It’s only because of, you know, you look at what happened, it’s John Kerry I guess just doesn’t want them to make a deal and they probably figuring they can wait and maybe it will be Biden and they’ll own America if Biden gets [elected] and they know with me doesn’t work that way, it doesn’t work that way. If Joe Biden got in, they’d own America between them China, Japan, Mexico, Canada. They’d own America. You wouldn’t have a country left if he got in,” Trump said in a press briefing at the White House in April 2020.

Trump even accused Kerry of violating the Logan Act, a U.S. federal law that criminalizes negotiation by unauthorized American citizens with foreign governments having a dispute with the U.S.

Criticizing the secret meeting between Kerry and Senator Chris Murphy and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Trump tweeted on February 19, “Kerry & Murphy illegally violated the Logan Act. This is why Iran is not making a deal. Must be dealt with strongly!”

By accusing the Democrats of secretly dealing with Iran, Trump sought to suggest that Iran and the Democrats are collaborating to delay Iran-U.S. negotiations until after the November election. But analysts told the Tehran Times that there is no difference between Trump and Biden. Both of them could continue imposing pressure on Iran.

Generally, there will be no change in the policies of Trump or Biden toward Iran, according to Houshang Sheikhi, a political analyst and expert on West Asia.

“I think the U.S. follows a strategic policy toward Iran and it has moved within this policy so far,” Sheikhi told the Tehran Times, pointing to some differences in tactics that Trump and Biden could employ against Iran.

He added, “Trump has less ability to build consensus and create coalitions but do coalitions determine the behavior of states? What we see is that coalitions do not determine the behavior of countries.”

The analyst also alluded to the triggering by the U.S. of the return of all UN sanctions on Iran. According to Sheikhi, the Trump administration pressed ahead with its plan to restore the UN sanctions despite the fact that the members of the UN Security Council stood against the U.S.

“Therefore, I think the outcome of the U.S. elections will not make a difference to Iran. If Biden wins the election, the U.S. will once again put pressure on Iran to begin talks, and that the previous process may be repeated. This can inflict costs on the country because what we will see is the repetition of Obama policies against Iran,” Sheikhi commented.
Biden has said that he will rejoin a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which Trump quitted on May 8, 2018. After exiting the deal, the Trump administration reimposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran in line with the “Maximum Pressure” campaign that Trump launched following the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

But Biden says Trump’s Iran policy was a total failure.

“We urgently need to change course,” he said in an opinion piece published by CNN on September 13, adding, “There is a smart way to be tough on Iran, and there is Trump's way.”

Biden also said he will rejoin the JCPOA if Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal. But Sheikhi believes that Biden will build on what Trump achieved against Iran.

“Biden will not even return to the days of Obama. He will move forward with the current policies, using Trump’s four years of experience. Therefore, I don’t think there will be a difference between Trump and Biden to the interest of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Biden himself hinted that his return to the JCPOA would not be unconditional and it will rather be “a starting point for follow-on negotiations.”

“I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern,” Biden wrote.

It remains to be seen whether a Biden administration would rejoin the JCPOA. Even if he does so, there would be little doubt that he will make efforts to extend the nuclear deal, a goal that even President Obama wanted to achieve. The nuclear deal was only a “window” to help Iran and the U.S. resolve important issues, according to President Barack Obama.

“As I have said many times, the nuclear deal was never intended to resolve all of our differences with Iran but still engaging directly with the Iranian government on a sustained basis for the first time in decades has created a unique opportunity, a ‘window,’ to try to resolve important issues. And today I can report progress on a number of fronts…. I want also to point out that by working with Iran on this nuclear deal, we were better able to address other issues,” Obama said on January 16, 2016, as the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran has completed the necessary steps under the JCPOA that will ensure Iran's nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful.

Addressing the Iranian people, Obama added, “Following the nuclear deal, you, especially young Iranians, have the opportunity to begin building new ties with the world. We have a rare chance to pursue a new path, a different better future that delivers progress for both our people and the wider world. That’s the opportunity before the Iranian people. We need to take advantage of that.”

Some analysts believe that a President Biden could pursue a path with Iran similar to what Obama has done, although he may fail to accomplish what Obama failed to.

If Biden wins the election the situation around Iran may get better, according to Seyed Jalal Sadatian, the former Iranian ambassador to London.

“The situation would get better if Biden wins the election but this does not mean that everything will be resolved. The Democrats also have their own demands,” the former ambassador told the Tehran Times.

According to the former ambassador, some may welcome a Biden presidency because he has said he would rejoin the JCPOA. Sadatian also said some say that Iran can better negotiate with Trump and get concessions but this is not the case.

Biden and Trump have made clear that they would pursue different tactics if they win the elections. Iranian officials said there would be no big difference between Trump and Biden’s strategy because both seek to see Iran change tack. Some Iranian analysts even believe that Biden and Trump seek regime change in Iran, although they pursue different tactics to make this happen.

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