By Javad Heirannia

Expanding JCPOA on other issues not productive: ex-UK ambassador to IAEA

October 25, 2020 - 10:38

TEHRAN – Peter Jenkins, the former UK ambassador to the IAEA, says Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden seems to be setting out a very ambitious agenda for negotiations with Iran if he wins the November 3 presidential elections which will not be productive.

“I can imagine Biden’s approach yielding a revival of the JCPOA if he can bring himself not to insist on unreasonable linkages, and subsequent negotiations on other issues – but I doubt that those subsequent negotiations will be productive because I doubt that Iran has anything to gain from them,” Jenkins tells the Tehran Times.

Jenkins also says some of Biden’s advisors on Iran “seem to share the current U.S. administration’s belief that Iran should engage in unilateral disarmament by reducing or eliminating its missile forces, and should cut or scale back ties to friendly forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.”

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: Writing an article on the CNN website on September 13, Joe Biden unveiled the details of his three-stage plan against Iran. In the first phase, there would be talks on reviving the nuclear deal, and in the later stages, issues of human rights, Iran’s regional policy, and its missile program would be raised. That is, would the results of the talks on the nuclear deal be linked to Iran's regional policies and missile program?

A: Vice-President Biden seems to be setting out a very ambitious agenda for negotiations with Iran during a Biden Presidency. The degree of linkage between the various issues is not clear to me at this stage. It would be characteristic of the U.S. approach to international negotiation for Biden and his advisers on Iran to envisage a high linkage degree. But it may prove to be the case that they are capable of attaching sufficient priority to obtaining a resumption of full implementation of the 2015 JCPOA to settle for nothing more than an Iranian undertaking to embark on the negotiation of these other issues once the United States has re-joined the JCPOA and lifted all JCPOA-inconsistent U.S. sanctions. 

Q: The difference between Biden and Trump regarding Iran is a matter of timing. In other words, all the issues raised by Trump, namely regional issues and missile program, are also being raised by Biden. Biden is pursuing a dialogue on non-nuclear issues in later stages. What is your assessment?

They (many of Biden’s advisors) seem to intend to be as open to Israeli, Saudi and Emirati influence on U.S. policy in the Middle East as the Trump administration has been.”A: I would not say that the difference between Biden and Trump is one of timing. Biden has expressed an intention to take the United States back into the JCPOA. There has been no indication that Trump has any such intention. Instead, he clings to the belief that “maximum pressure” will induce the Iranian government to request a renegotiation of the JCPOA and a negotiation on missiles and regional policy. I cannot imagine Trump’s approach yielding agreement on anything. I can imagine Biden’s approach yielding a revival of the JCPOA if he can bring himself not to insist on unreasonable linkages and subsequent negotiations on other issues – but I doubt that those subsequent negotiations will be productive because I doubt that Iran has anything to gain from them.

Q: In his first step, Biden says that with the full return of Iran to its nuclear obligations, the United States will also return to its obligations. However, how can Biden lift sanctions since some of them require dialogue on non-nuclear issues?

A: Common sense suggests that there are people in Iran who have the thankless task of tracking U.S. sanctions on Iran and who are capable of pointing to sanctions that originated as JCPOA-inconsistent (i.e., nuclear-related) sanctions but have subsequently been re-designated. If that is the case, then Iran’s negotiators can reasonably demand the lifting of those sanction as one of the conditions the United States must fulfill to obtain Iran’s return to full implementation of the JCPOA.

Q: In your opinion, what is Biden's approach to Iran compared to Trump? What are the similarities and differences?

A: I have already touched on one crucial difference: Biden seems to intend to obtain a revival of the JCPOA. Related to that: Biden does not hate President Obama and does not seek to obliterate the JCPOA because it was one of President Obama’s outstanding diplomatic achievements. Biden does not think of himself as the world’s greatest dealmaker. Biden is not interested in making common cause with groups that seek regime change, i.e., the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.

On the other hand, Biden, or at least many of his advisers on Iran seem to share the current U.S. administration’s belief that Iran should engage in unilateral disarmament by reducing or eliminating its missile forces, and should cut or scale back ties to friendly forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and to Shi’a communities in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. They seem to intend to be as open to Israeli, Saudi, and Emirati influence on U.S. policy in the Middle East as the Trump administration has been. They will find the arrest and imprisonment of dual nationals or foreign citizens on questionable charges as unacceptable as the Trump administration has done. They will be as suspicious of Iran’s nuclear program's ultimate purpose as the Trump administration has been. And they will be as ready to use force to defend or promote what they see as U.S. interests, with or without a prior decision by the UN Security Council.

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