By Mohammad Ali Saki

Professor says Washington will be less biased in favor of Riyadh

February 17, 2021 - 14:34

TEHRAN - An American professor says that U.S. foreign policy during Joe Biden's presidency will focus on human rights and democracy which can affect its ties with Saudi Arabia.

“U.S. policy going forward will likely be more conditioned by concerns about human rights and democracy, and less biased in favor of Saudi Arabia and Israel,” Karl Kaltenthaler, professor of political science and director of Security Studies at the University of Akron, tells the Tehran Times. 

“The policy goals for this administration are tempered by previous failed U.S. efforts to re-shape the region,” Karl Kaltenthaler adds.

The professor also says a revitalization of the Iran nuclear deal has opponents, citing Washington’s allies Israel and Saudi Arabia as examples. 

However, he predicts “it is very likely that Iran and the U.S. will work out an arrangement to get the JCPOA back up and running.” The following is the text of the interview:

Q: Do you expect Iran and the U.S. to reach an understanding over reviving the JCPOA?

A: I think it is more likely than not that the United States and Iran will reach an understanding over reviving the JCPOA.  This is a very important goal for both countries and not getting back into the agreement would be detrimental to the security of both countries.  It will not be easy, on the other hand, to get both countries to agree on the conditions for reviving the deal. 

Both sides are constrained by opponents to the deal. In Iran, it is the hardline opposition to the deal and for the United States, it is both opposition within the U.S. to moving away from the maximum pressure policies toward Iran but also the opposition to reviving the deal from U.S. allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.  But at the end of the day, it is very likely that Iran and the U.S. will work out an arrangement to get the JCPOA back up and running.

Q: Why the Biden administration is delaying the process while the U.S. was the side that pulled out of the pact and it is expected to take the first step.  

A: The Biden Administration did not withdraw from the deal, the Trump Administration did that.  Since that time, the Iranian government has been enriching uranium at levels not allowed by the deal. The Biden Administration is calling on the Iranian government to halt the uranium enrichment and move back into compliance with the JCPOA rules.  To the Biden Administration, it is clear that not everyone in the Iranian government is enthusiastic about moving back into compliance with the deal.  In other words, the Iranian government does not seem to speak with one voice or show one position on the benefits of moving back into compliance with the JCPOA.  Because of that, the Biden Administration is likely making sure the Iranian position on the JCPOA is clearly articulated by Iranian actions. 

Q: What is your prediction of U.S. policy towards Yemen and human rights in the country? Would it be limited to just formal and superficial reforms, or the region will see a fundamental change?

A: U.S. policy toward Yemen is evolving and will likely be less heavily weighted to taking the Saudi side in the conflict.  President Trump was very close to the Saudi leadership and was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on Yemen.  The Biden Administration is very concerned about the humanitarian cost of the conflict in Yemen.  Biden and his team seem genuinely concerned about the Yemeni people who have been caught in the middle of the conflict and they want them to get aid and relief as soon as possible.

Q: In West Asia, every side accuses the other of playing a malicious role. What was the role of the Trump administration in dividing the region?

A: The Trump Administration had very strong relationships with the leadership of Saudi Arabia and Israel.  These relationships had a very powerful impact on U.S. policy toward the Middle East (West Asia).  Trump also was convinced that Iran is the biggest cause of instability and threats to U.S. interests in the region.  These three things were the key factors that contributed to Trump's thinking about the whole Middle East (West Asia) and North Africa region.  This policy viewpoint created real problems for countries that wanted good relations with the U.S. and Iran, such as Iraq.  U.S. policy going forward will likely be more conditioned by concerns about human rights and democracy, and less biased in favor of Saudi Arabia and Israel.  It is also case that the Biden Administration will be very cautious about new U.S. ventures to re-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  The policy goals for this administration are tempered by previous failed U.S. efforts to re-shape the region.  This administration has a much less ambitious set of goals for the Middle East (Middle East) than the previous two U.S. administrations.

Q: Do you expect Iran to lean more toward China and Russia after the West (America and the EU) failed to implement their obligations under the JCPOA? 

A: I think we are seeing that happen as I write these words. I also think this will likely continue.  China and Russia have an incentive to try to bring Iran into their circle of allies as the relationship between the West and China and Russia deteriorates.  Iran also has an incentive to get closer to Russia and China for economic and security reasons.  China is particularly important for Iran economically.  But as Iran gets closer to Russia and China, the more difficult it will be to re-establish trust with the West, particularly with the United States.  

Q: Do you think the U.S. administration will continue using sanctions as leverage against Iran?
A: The American administration believes that economic sanctions have been devastating to the Iranian economy.  The Biden Administration does believe it has leverage over Iran and hopes that it can use this leverage to change some Iranian foreign behaviors.  The most important goal of the Biden administration toward Iran is to get that country to move back into the JCPOA and to be assured that Iran is not moving toward nuclear weapons.   Secondarily, the Biden Administration would like Iran to no longer develop missiles that are viewed as threatening to the security of U.S. allies in the region. Of the two goals, the first one is, by far, the most important one.   
 

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