By Azin Sahabi

Projection a political weapon for Washington in nuclear talks

March 3, 2021 - 15:11

TEHRAN-  In one of its latest commentaries, RAND Corporation, one of the top U.S. think tanks, has argued that Biden’s administration cannot turn back the clock on the Iran nuclear deal. 

On March 1, Raphael Cohen, the associate director of the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE discusses that the Oval Office may probably find it demanding to keep this pledge. He believes: “Not only do all of the original flaws of the agreement remain but, more importantly, the agreement was predicated on a geopolitical context that no

longer exists.”

JCPOA and U.S. public opinion 

RAND mentions that until Trump’s withdrawal from 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement was relatively popular among the American public. The author refers to the results of a public opinion poll conducted by YouGov in 2017 that indicated most Americans supported the JCPOA. The research found that

56 percent of the public approved of the agreement, of which 31 percent strongly approved and 25 percent somewhat approved. 

Cohen also noticed that in 2018 less than one in three Americans agreed with Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the JCPOA. A national opinion poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos on May 4-8 2018 found that 29 percent of adults wanted to end the deal with Iran. Meanwhile, another 42 percent said the U.S. should remain in the deal, and the remaining 28 percent

said they “don’t know.”

Serving good politics but not a good policy 

RAND points out that the agreement thwarted the Trump administration's “America first” foreign policy and writes: “While rejoining the JCPOA may make for good politics, it may not make for good policy.”

Like his counterparts, Cohen, a military intelligence branched lieutenant colonel, accuses Tehran of pursuing nuclear weapons with “potentially explosive foreign policy”. To explain the “flaws” of the JCPOA, he argues that the deal was neither a long-term agreement nor effective against

the “Iran challenge.”

In this regard, the analyst refers to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s interview with NBC News on February 1, his first television appearance since arriving at the White House, in which the secretary claimed that Iran could be just “weeks away” from having sufficient nuclear material for a bomb.

Against the backdrop, Cohen claims that rather than blocking Iran’s path to nuclear weapons for good, the JCPOA just restricted it for 15 years and ignored the Iranian missile program, a potential delivery means for what he called Iran's nuclear weapons.

It is worth noting that notwithstanding the Obama administration approved the JCPOA, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned 11 companies and individuals in January 2016 under the pretext of helping Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Cohen also claims that Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism was excluded from the 2015 agreement and Iran’s missile program continued to develop after the deal. 

Shattered pillars of the JCPOA

In this context, RAND argues: “Even beyond these issues, though, many of the underlying assumptions of the JCPOA no longer hold true and time is no longer on the United States side.”. The author sheds light on the Iranian public opinion towards the JCPOA after Trump’s withdrawal. Cohen reminds that a series of polls conducted in 2019 by the Center for

International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) and IranPoll revealed

that fifteen months after May 2018, a clear majority of Iranians wanted to leave

the deal in response to the U.S. withdrawal and sanctions. To be precise, Iranians’ support for the deal plummeted from 85 percent in August 2015 to 42 percent in October 2019.

Admitting that the economic benefits which Iran expected to enjoy under the JCPOA never materialized, Cohen argues to rebuild the trust between Tehran and Washington, lifting sanctions by the Biden administration may prove insufficient. Regarding this, he writes: “The chance that a future American administration could reimpose sanctions might deter

companies from investing in Iran and limit the short-term impact of any relief.”

Regional stumbling blocks for Biden

Israel and some of its Arab partners, who are not partners of the 2015 deal, claim that Iran is an existential threat to them and thereby try to propagate this illusion that the JCPOA will strengthen what they call Iran’s “regional ambitions”.

In this context, RAND explains the matter from a geopolitical perspective based on the Abraham Accords brokered between Israel and some Arab states of the Persian Gulf on August 13, 2020. The analyst believes that the agreement implies the Israeli-Arab split as the regional primary cleavage, does not exist anymore. As RAND argues, this as a new dynamic, can put any future nuclear deal in a regional context.

Domestic challenges against Biden

Cohen also points out that recently the U.S. has faced some pressing challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic which the Biden administration is required to put them at the top of its concerns. Moreover, the analyst believes that in comparison to managing China and Russia, the Iran challenge may sit at the lower ranks of the Oval Office foreign policy agenda.  

He also argues that while the U.S. may be less interested in solving the nuclear dispute, the opponents of the JCPOA are still vocal which may potentially make it more difficult for Washington to salvage the deal.

Projection as a political weapon 

Reviewing the aforementioned, it sounds that in an attempt to induce failure of any future talks on the nuclear deal in advance, RAND invokes domestic, regional, and international political dynamics as inadvertent barriers which would prevent Biden to turn back the clock on the Iran nuclear deal. In other words, using the technique of projection, the think tank attempts to justify the U.S. likely cheating at the table under any pretexts other than Washington’s bad faith. 

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