By Javad Heirannia

It’s Biden that needs to take verifiable steps to lift Iran sanctions: Adib-Moghaddam

November 11, 2020 - 11:18

TEHRAN - Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute, argues it is Joe Biden’s administration that needs to take verifiable steps to lift sanctions on Iran.

“There is a chance for diplomacy, but it is the Biden administration that needs to take verifiable steps towards sanctions relief,” Adib-Moghaddam tells the Tehran Times.

Adib-Moghaddam also say, “The Iranian people deserve nothing but this approach from their government.”

Outgoing President Donald Trump has slapped the harshest sanctions in history against Iran in violation of international law under his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran. Trump, a real estate developer, called the nuclear agreement, officially called the JCPOA, “the worst ever deal” he has seen. 

“Joe Biden is not Donald Trump much in the same way as Barack Obama spearheaded a different U.S. foreign policy which yielded some major successes for peace and stability, including with Iran and other post-revolutionary countries such as Cuba,” says Adib-Moghaddam, also an expert in global thought and comparative philosophies.

Here is the full text of the interview.

Q: Writing an article on CNN on September 13, Joe Biden proposed a three-stage plan for engagement with Iran. In addition the JCPOA, he suggested to extend the talks on human rights, Iran’s regional policies and missile program. What is your assessment?

A: Joe Biden is not Donald Trump much in the same way as Barack Obama spearheaded a different U.S. foreign policy which yielded some major successes for peace and stability, including with Iran and other post-revolutionary countries such as Cuba. This is the starting point of the analysis, as there are opportunities in understanding those differences in terms of leadership and world-view. Biden will be serious about bringing back the JCPOA, not least as a means to narrow the rift with Europe. So the JCPOA negotiations will be presented as a new “multilateral” outreach in anticipation that it will suddenly improve the image of this U.S. government among its European allies, but also in Japan. Europe will be receptive to that approach and it is within that dialectic between Europe and the U.S. where we find the real answer to your question. At this juncture of global history the strategy and tactics of Biden, will be decisively affected by Europe. The human security question will prop up – and in this case it is up to Iran to pre-empt any major problem in this regard by instituting serious reforms starting with the judiciary which are long overdue irrespective of the international situation. In terms of diplomacy such an Iranian human rights initiative would make it rather more unlikely that the country would be dragged into negotiations that would involve the ballistic missile program and/or regional policies.  So Iranian domestic politics will be the second determining factor in answering your question. If there is a shift to the right in Iran, Europe will toughen its stance, this time with a U.S. president that they can safely liaise with, without losing votes in their own countries. 

Q: During his election campaigns, Biden repeatedly spoke of returning to the JCPOA if Iran fully complies with the agreement. What is your analysis?

A: The two factors that I mentioned above are equally important for this question. Even Biden’s team will assume that Iran is rather more likely to negotiate when the country is under economic distress. This is a misperception, of course. There will be token gestures with reference to medicine and other life-saving materials, but the sanctions threat will be a part of the diplomatic tool-box, largely because U.S. decision-makers are under the false impression that sanctions work. This is an effect of a wider materialist-capitalist world-view. But the empirical data doesn’t support a link between sanctions and changes in foreign policy of the target countries. Neither in the case of Iran, nor Cuba or Venezuela for instance. 

“U.S. decision-makers are under the false impression that sanctions work”Secondly, two Iranian administrations did what the so called international community, including the United States, wanted them to do: First, Mohammad Khatami when he suspended nuclear enrichment on Iranian territory in return to promised sanctions relief and then the Rouhani administration when it adhered to the JCPOA. The fact is that in both cases Iranians were punished, that civilians died because of the sanctions, and that Iran was either aggregated into an axis of evil or targeted by assassination campaigns such as the murder of General Soleimani, which must be a factor in this, not merely because of him and his persona, but because of the statutes of international law.  No country can simply be asked to forget and forgive and to move on. Diplomacy must be pursued in earnest, but Iranians shouldn’t be under any illusion that this time it will be fundamentally different, not least because Trumpism and the global right wing will continue to impinge on the process. This is a major topic in my new study “What is Iran: Domestic Politics and International Relations in Five Musical Pieces” which will be published next year. There is a chance for diplomacy, but it is the Biden administration that needs to take verifiable steps towards sanctions relief. The Iranian people deserve nothing but this approach from their government. 

Q: In a statement during the presidential campaigns, the Democratic Party announced that it would no longer pursue regime change in Iran. Will this policy be pursued under Biden or it is just a publicity?

A: The global right-wing will continue to insist on the regime change strategy, but Biden will attempt to resist this drive towards escalation and destabilisation. I am sure that he will shift the discursive field in this regard by addressing the country as the Islamic Republic of Iran, for instance, certainly in his first initiatives. This is what Obama did too together with his famous reference to Khayyam’s Bani Adam poem. Biden has similar sensitivities, but once again this analysis must be mindful of the institutionalised coterie of extremists and anti-Iranian hawks and their global networks which I refer to as the “global right-wing”.  They will continue to drive a policy of confrontation and so called “regime change”. 
Secondly, a lot of this will be depended on another major analytical factor and that is the economic devastation that Covid-19 is bringing about in the United States. If the pandemic continues to escalate on this scale, the country will not only be traumatised in terms of the human tragedies, the repercussions of the economic crisis may yield a comeback of the reactionary forces under a new leadership. And who couldn’t guarantee that with such socio-economic tremors a Donald Trump Jr. would come to the fore in four years time, this time battling it out against an 82 year old Biden, or someone that the Democratic Party would have to build up in a very short period of time.

Q: In general, what policy shifts do you predict by the Biden administration in comparison to Trump’s?

 A: Biden will try to construct a diplomatic Trojan Horse that will be filled with strategies to re-claim U.S. diplomatic hegemony in the region and beyond. In that regard, Trump was sitting on a mule. A Trojan Horse is more effective – Hence it could be more dangerous. 

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