By Mohammad Mazhari

No guarantee a Republican administration won't quit nuclear deal again: expert

December 20, 2020 - 15:18

TEHRAN – A defense editor at the Economist says that there is no guarantee that a possible Republican administration in the U.S. will not breach the nuclear deal again.

“There is no guarantee of this. Iran must contend with the risk that a Republican administration in 2024 will once more walk away from a deal,” Shashank Joshi tells the Tehran Times. 

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the JCPOA that was signed when he was vice president if Iran also agrees to return to full compliance. However, diplomats and analysts say it is unlikely to happen smoothly because skeptical adversaries want additional commitments from each other.

The lesson of the Trump era is that America is highly polarized and that diplomatic agreements may be less enduring and stable than they were in the past. Joshi, who served as a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), also says “the assassination of Mr. Fakhrizadeh was probably conducted by Israel, and follows several other killings over the past decade.”

Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated outside Tehran on November 27. Iranian officials were quick to point the finger at Israel for the assassination. 

“The assassination was a highly provocative move and probably aimed at disrupting the incoming Biden administration's effort to re-join the JCPOA,” notes Joshi, who also worked as a research associate at Oxford University’s Changing Character of War Program.

The following is the text of the interview: 

Q: Would you expect the incoming Biden administration to reach a consensus with Iran to revitalize the JCPOA as some argue that it is a tough project?


A: I think it is very likely that a Biden administration will reach a deal with Iran. But there are two questions. One is whether it will be a U.S. return to the JCPOA, or something more limited involving U.S. sanctions relief and Iran returning to compliance. The second question is whether a follow-on deal, covering, for instance, sunset clauses and further economic assistance for Iran, can be agreed upon. A follow-on deal seems more difficult at this stage, particularly in light of next year's Iranian elections and the contentiousness of the issues. 

Q: What would guarantee the next administrations won’t behave like Donald Trump’s and pull out of international deals unilaterally? What are the lessons of the Trump era?

A: There is no guarantee of this. Iran must contend with the risk that a Republican administration in 2024 will once more walk away from a deal. The JCPOA was divisive and controversial in the United States, and there will remain strong opposition to it in the Republican Party for years to come. The lesson of the Trump era is that America is highly polarized and that diplomatic agreements may be less enduring and stable than they were in the past. However, if the Democrats win re-election in 2024, then this might allow for the deal to become more institutionalized and accepted, particularly if wider regional tensions can be reduced in the interim period. 
 
Q: Do you expect Biden to sharply reverse the U.S. foreign policy? May he turn his back on Saudi Arabia or reduce support for Israel?

A: I do not expect a sharp change in U.S. foreign policy. He is likely to adopt a cooler policy to Saudi Arabia and may put pressure on the Kingdom to end the war in Yemen. But Saudi Arabia will remain an important counter-terrorism partner in the Middle East (West Asia), and an influential player in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and the (Persian) Gulf. The relationship may become less friendly, but it will not break. Biden's approach to Israel will also be more cautious than that of the Trump administration. There will be more emphasis on a two-state solution and more pressure over Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But the U.S.-Israel relationship is likely to remain generally strong and robust, even if the Iran issue is likely to cause growing tensions between the two countries. 

 Q: It seems that the United States’ blind support for Israel never helps create peace in West Asia because Washington follows the policy of “Israel First”. What is your comment?

A: I disagree with the premise of the question. Of course, the U.S. is highly sensitive to Israeli security and its concerns. That is partly for historic reasons, given Israel's status and partly for domestic political ones, given bipartisan support for Israel from both Jewish and Christian religious communities in the United States. Despite its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, Americans consider Israel a democracy in the Middle East (West Asia) surrounded by generally hostile Arab states, and that fact is viewed as admirable and worthy of support in the United States. But U.S. support is also for strategic reasons: Israel is a small but powerful state, with the most capable armed forces in the region, highly advanced cyber capabilities, and exceptionally strong intelligence services. That makes it a useful ally. 
 
Q: How do you measure the November 27 assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh? Why do Western countries don’t expect Iran to respond to the assassination?

A: The assassination of Mr. Fakhrizadeh was probably conducted by Israel, and follows several other killings over the past decade. The assassination was a highly provocative move and probably aimed at disrupting the incoming Biden administration's effort to re-join the JCPOA. From Israel's perspective, it is worth understanding that Mr. Fakhrizadeh probably continued his involvement in some weapons-related activities, although I do not endorse his killing. In the longer-term, I doubt that the killing will significantly affect Iran's ability to develop its nuclear program and even nuclear weapons if it chose to do so.  On the second point: Western countries do not want Iran to respond violently because they fear that it may cause a spiral of escalation, culminating in military action. I think that many Iranian officials share this concern, too. This is not just Western logic. But I think most Western countries also realize that Iran may have to demonstrate some sort of response, such as the parliamentary bill that was passed two weeks ago. The aim is to ensure that tensions do not rise in a way that might make it impossible for both sides to restore the JCPOA after January 20th. 

Q: How do you assess the U.S and Israel's records in waging wars especially in West Asia? Is the U.S. entitled to meddle in the region under the pretext of peacekeeping?

A: In my opinion, yes. What you call "meddling", others would call legitimate support for allies. Collective self-defence is a right under the UN Charter and countries have the right to determine their foreign policies and form alliances, as long as they respect the sovereignty of others. Without American support during the cold war, Europe might not have survived and rebuilt itself. Today, America is present in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East (West Asia), because other countries want it there by free choice. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a terrible error. But the U.S. and its European partners played a vital role in pushing back ISIS from Syria and Iraq. It is also important to reflect on Iran's own record. During the Bosnian war in the 1990s -- to give one example -- the IRGC was active in the Balkans. Was this also meddling? 

However, what is clear is that the Biden administration aims to do is place less emphasis on the Middle East (West Asia) and more on Asia, and this is likely to result in a smaller military footprint in the region.

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