A Return to the Iran Deal? US, Iranian Officials Both Signal Willingness to Negotiate

With the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden as the 46th President of the United States, many observed that this appeared a new era in American foreign policy. Biden made it clear during his campaign and his inauguration that the United States needed to turn away from the isolationist attitude of his predecessor in order to ensure stability of the liberal international order. This raises many questions about foreign policy under the Biden Administration; in particular, what will the United States do about its withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal)?

On the 2nd of February, a spokesperson for the American Department of State reiterated that the United States would willingly return to the deal. Ned Price, Department of State spokesman, told reporters that the United States is “prepared to walk the path of diplomacy – if Iran resumes that full compliance” with the agreement. While the new Secretary of State Antony Blinken demonstrated his own concerns upon taking office – claiming Iran would soon have enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb – Iranian officials also appeared willing to negotiate a return to the deal. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, urged a quick return to the agreement on the 6th of February, noting that legislation passed by a  Iranian parliament – currently dominated by hardliners – would force Iran to pursue a stronger nuclear stance if sanctions are not lifted by February 21st. Zarif also expressed his concern over upcoming elections in Iran, which could see further hardliners elected who would be unwilling to negotiate with the United States.

Withdrawal from the JCPOA was one of the Trump Administration’s most controversial moves. Taken under the pretense that Iran was not following the terms of the agreement, American withdrawal from the deal was followed by major sanctions against the Iranian government. This, in turn, was followed by Iranian threats to resume the enrichment of uranium beyond 3.67% – the implication of this being that Iran would be enriching uranium past the civilian power generation threshold allowed under the deal, and thus producing uranium for weapons development. However, the election of Joe Biden has observers hopeful that the United States and Iran will work together to achieve the goals of the deal.

At present, both nations appear to be at an impasse, with representatives on both sides claiming that it is the other which has to return to the negotiating table. However, this does not preclude the reaching of a solution prior to Iranian deadlines. Already, Iran is recognizing that the Biden Administration’s stance on the region is shifting in ways that could be helpful  for negotiations. In particular, the Biden Administration recently announced its withdrawal of support for the Saudi-led coalition participating in the Yemeni War. This move – part of a wider U.S. re-evaluation of regional policy – could promote Iranian willingness to negotiate with European and American officials. It is hoped that a compromise can be reached prior to Iranian elections, and the terms of the 2015 deal once more followed by all signatories.