Ex-U.S. intelligence officer advises Biden to rejoin JCPOA with no preconditions

March 8, 2021 - 20:19
‘Biden has boxed himself into a corner on Iran’

TEHRAN- Iran will not accept the Biden administration’s unrealistic and unreasonable demands for the U.S. to rejoin the nuclear agreement, former U.S Marine Corps intelligence officer Scott Ritter wrote in Russia Today on March 5.

“So the president is going to have to show some pragmatism and flexibility to move things forward,” said Ritter who served as a UN weapons inspector from 1991-1998. 

The U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for President Joe Biden’s nominee for the position of deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, suggested interesting insights into the quandary facing the Biden administration in fulfilling a campaign pledge to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), he wrote.

He acknowledged Sherman faces an uphill fight given her prior role in negotiating the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and noted, “Many senior Democrats, including Senator Bob Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Services Committee overseeing her hearing, are vehemently opposed to the deal.”

Ritter emphasized Menendez’s arguments against the Iran nuclear deal, initially articulated during a floor speech in May 2015, have not changed over time and wrote, “He does not trust Iran to comply with the deal, and is fearful of any movement toward rejoining the agreement that would keep Congress out of the loop.”

“He also believes that there can be no agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that does not consider its ballistic missile capabilities and so-called ‘malign’ activities in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, among others,” the former American intelligence officer noted. 

He reminded that Menendez’s position is not far removed from that of Joe Biden and stressed, “While the public perception is that candidate Joe Biden made a straightforward campaign pledge to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement if elected, the reality is somewhat different. In a September 2020 op-ed penned for CNN, Biden outlined a course of action that reflects the thinking of his administration when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program. ‘I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy,’ Biden noted then. ‘If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern’.”

“Prior to 2014, the Obama administration had insisted on Iran’s total abandonment of nuclear enrichment as a precondition for the lifting of sanctions. Ultimately, Iran refused to yield, while actually expanding the size and capabilities of its indigenous enrichment capability,” Ritter wrote. 

He argued Biden boxed itself into a corner where the only path out was an unwinnable war that would devastate West Asia and reminded, “The Obama administration capitulated on its demands of zero enrichment, agreeing to permit Iran to engage in limited enrichment activity which would be subjected to restrictions that would ease and eventually expire over time. This was the JCPOA, which Sherman helped negotiate.”
He criticized the Biden administration for making a similar “red line”-based argument when it comes to rejoining the agreement and underlined, “Either Iran agrees to preconditions regarding the JCPOA’s de facto renegotiation – which would include greater restrictions on its nuclear program spread out over a longer period, limits on its ballistic missile program, and restraint when it comes to support for its regional allies – or no deal.”

Ritter admitted the outcome of this approach is obvious- no deal will be reached- and emphasized, “A Biden administration offer to join Iran, together with the other parties to the JCPOA, in direct talks was rejected by Iran. Far from a blanket rejection, however, the Iranian decision was because the U.S. would not provide assurances that the talks would be limited to the JCPOA. Iran has made it clear that it is ready to engage in discussions concerning the unconditional return to the JCPOA by the U.S., inclusive of the lifting of all sanctions. However, Iran feared that the Biden administration and its European allies would use any formal meeting as a vehicle for redefining the conditions for the U.S. rejoining the JCPOA, thereby providing legitimacy to these conditions. The Biden administration offer was a trap, one which was identified beforehand by Iran and disarmed.”

Pointing to anti Iran efforts of Western powers in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors, he wrote, “The U.S., together with the UK, France and Germany, had put forward a resolution to the IAEA Board of Governors which was very critical of Iran. The proposed resolution would have echoed the concerns expressed by the IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi in a statement made to the Board of Governors. Grossi highlighted his concerns over Iran’s decision to stop its implementation of the provisions of the Additional Protocol and Modified code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangements to the Safeguards Agreement, conditions it had voluntarily agreed to comply with as part of the JCPOA.”

“Tehran feared a repeat of a precedent set by the U.S. in 2005-2006, where it was able to transform technical concerns over Iranian compliance into a political issue that eventually saw the Iran nuclear file transferred away from the IAEA Board of Governors to the UN Security Council,” he added. 

He asserted Iran’s major demands as part of the JCPOA was to have its file transferred out of the Security Council and back to the IAEA Board of Governors and wrote, “Facing the repeat of history, Iran let it be known that if the IAEA Board of Governors were to take up this U.S.-backed resolution, it would cease all cooperation with the IAEA on JCPOA-related activity, in effect killing the agreement. Yielding to this reality, the UK, France, and Germany withdrew their support for the U.S. resolution.”

Ritter hopeful that the IAEA and Iran have an agreement in place to keep the infrastructure that serves as the framework for inspection-based compliance verification of the JCPOA intact and underlined, “Iran has committed to instantly returning to full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA once all sanctions are lifted. The quickest way for this to happen would be the unconditional return of the U.S. to the JCPOA. The IAEA-Iranian agreement, however, comes with a three-month deadline, after which Iran will permanently scrap the frozen inspection framework. Iran has made it clear that it will not yield on its demands.”
Ultimately, he concluded, “The Biden administration is left with two choices – stand its ground and see the JCPOA collapse and the probability of conflict with Iran increase, or issue an executive order that has the U.S. rejoining the JCPOA without preconditions. These are the ‘facts on the ground,’ and no amount of ‘nostalgia’ can change them.”



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