Biden’s Iran miscalculation
Iran officially has an elected president, Ebrahim Raisi, who will be sworn in on Thursday. Raisi replaces outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate first elected in 2013 to succeed Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the intransigent who first caught the attention of many Americans in 2007. It was then. that he spoke at Columbia University, expressing skepticism about the history of the Holocaust and emphasizing Iran. does not have “homosexuals”. On the scale from Rouhani to Ahmadinejad, Raisi is closer to the latter.
His distance from Rouhani is particularly important when it comes to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. Rouhani presided over the creation of the accord during the Obama administration and tried to negotiate with the Trump and Biden administrations to restore US participation in the pact after President Donald Trump’s withdrawal in 2018. Raisi – who is personally sanctioned by Washington for its alleged involvement in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the late 1980s – says it will negotiate, too, but it should be relatively intransigent.
None of this is news for President Biden and his team. Raisi was elected in June in a race generally considered designed for his victory. This administration knew that Raisi was coming. So why did they wait? Why didn’t they join the Iranian deal when Rouhani was the man on the other side of the table?
Restoring the JCPOA was a key promise of the Biden campaign, and the administration’s dragging its feet has likely made it more difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill. Immediately after Biden’s inauguration, the Rouhani government proposed a simultaneous Iran-US return to JCPOA compliance, a way for both governments to secure diplomatic victory while saving face. Biden refused. Does he imagine that Raisi will be just as accommodating?
There’s another way Biden’s delay on this issue is unfortunate. I don’t mean to be simplistic here, but the elections in Iran are much faster than ours. The list of approved candidates was released in late May – months after Biden rejected the simultaneous return plan. It would be naive to think that US-Iranian relations were the only factor in Raisi’s selection, but it would also be naive to think that they were irrelevant. If moderate Rouhani could have restored the deal in February, would a hardline supporter like Raisi have been the frontrunner in May? We can never say for sure, but we can be sure that diplomacy will be more difficult in the future.
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