By Mohammad Ali Saki

As a centrist Biden is unlikely to take bold actions toward West Asia: Hunter

March 13, 2021 - 21:13

TEHRAN - Shireen Tahmaasb Hunter, a professor of political science at Georgetown University, says Joe Biden is reluctant to take bold decisions, especially when it comes to West Asia.

"Biden is a centrist and is not likely to take very bold actions, especially in regard to the Middle East (West Asia)," Hunter tells the Tehran Times.  

However, she says, Biden’s “approach towards China and Russia, too, is quite hardline." 

While Biden pledged in his election campaigns to reverse Trump's policies and make fundamental changes in U.S. foreign policy, some political observers are doubtful that he can make any significant reforms.

Moreover, many are doubtful of a real difference between Democrats and Republicans in regard to American foreign policy.  

"Except for the far left, in foreign policy, especially regarding the Middle East (West Asia), there is not much difference between the conservatives and the more liberal U.S. politicians," Hunter notes, adding, "The conservative-liberal divide is more significant in the domestic area."

The case of the Khashoggi killing and the role of Mohammed bin Salman in it was a good test. While Biden promised to penalize the Saudi crown prince, his administration exempted him. 

Biden’s move has raised serious questions about his proclamation in upholding human rights.
Following is the text of the interview with Shireen Hunter:


 Q: It was America that pulled out of the nuclear pact unilaterally in 2018, so why is the Biden administration not taking concrete steps to rejoin the JCPOA and lifting the sanctions?

A: Biden wants to use the existing sanctions to force Iran to agree to talks on other issues of concern to the U.S., such as Iran's missile program and its regional policies, which Washington sees as challenging the U.S. interests and those of its allies, especially Israel.

Q: Don't you think that Biden's policies towards Iran are confusing because he is trying to keep Trump's sanctions in place while talking about diplomacy? It may send a negative signal to Tehran.

A: Biden, too, wants to force Iran to make some basic concessions, such as reducing its missile program and changing its regional strategy. Biden wants to achieve these goals through diplomacy. But opting for diplomacy does not mean abandoning Washington's basic interests. A diplomacy is a tool, as is the use of military force. Therefore, there is nothing confusing about Biden's policy on Iran. Trump, too, wanted to talk to Iran, provided Tehran agreed to his conditions.

Q: Biden’s administration has imposed a ban on some Saudi officials for the Khashoggi killing. But it was not extended to bin Salman. Do you think Biden is serious when he talks about human rights, especially when it comes to Saudi Arabia?

A: Human rights issues never determine states' foreign policies. They are mostly propaganda tools. They are used more in the case of hostile states and not the friendly ones. Despite tensions, Saudi Arabia is still a U.S. ally and the U.S. does not want to undermine its relations with Riyadh.  Any action in this regard would be more symbolic than real.

“Human rights issues never determine states' foreign policies. They are mostly propaganda tools. They are used more in the case of hostile states and not the friendly ones. Despite tensions, Saudi Arabia is still a U.S. ally and the U.S. does not want to undermine its relations with Riyadh.  Any action in this regard would be more symbolic than real.”

Q: Israel’s military chief has warned of a new plan to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. At the same time, some Iraqi groups have claimed that Israel is behind some provocative attacks on U.S. military bases in the Iraqi territory. How can Israel hinder the process of reviving the JCPOA?

A: Israel has strong support in the U.S., including in Congress. U.S. presidents, in general, are receptive to Israeli views. Netanyahu claimed that he convinced Trump to exit the JCPOA. Israel has been advising the U.S. not to return to the JCPOA without significant concessions from Tehran. Furthermore, some hardliners in Israel still hope to trigger a military confrontation between Iran and the U.S. Attacks in Iraq could be false flag operations to incite such a confrontation. Even if there were no extensive military conflict, instability in Iraq would harm the prospects for the U.S. return to the JCPOA, especially if Iran was blamed for inciting turmoil.

Q: Biden's administration is filled with people who served under the Obama presidency. Don't you think that it makes the administration too conservative and cautious about making brave decisions? 

A: Except for the far left, in foreign policy, especially regarding the Middle East (West Asia), there is not much difference between the conservatives and the more liberal U.S. politicians. The conservative-liberal divide is more significant in the domestic area. Moreover, Biden is a centrist and is not likely to take very bold actions, especially in regard to the Middle East (West Asia). His approach towards China and Russia, too, is quite hardline.

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