How Biden Helped Hardliner Raisi Win Iran Election
By Medea Benjamin and
Nicolas J. S. Davies (`*) – CODEPINK
It was common knowledge that a U.S. failure to rejoin the
Iran nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA) before Iran’s June presidential election
would help conservative hard-liners to win the election. Indeed, on Saturday,
June 19, the conservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as the new President of
Raisi has a record of brutally cracking down on government opponents and his
election is a severe blow to Iranians struggling for a more liberal, open
society. He also has a history of anti-Western sentiment and says he would refuse
to meet with President Biden. And while current President Rhouhani, considered
a moderate, held out the possibility of broader talks after the U.S.
returned to the nuclear deal, Raisi will almost certainly reject broader
negotiations with the United States.
Raisi’s victory have been averted if President Biden had rejoined the Iran deal
right after coming into the White House and enabled Rouhani and the moderates
in Iran to take credit for the removal of U.S. sanctions before the election? Now
we will never know.
withdrawal from the agreement drew near-universal condemnation from Democrats
and arguably violated international
Biden’s failure to quickly rejoin the deal has left Trump’s policy in place,
including the cruel “maximum pressure” sanctions that are destroying Iran’s middle class,
throwing millions of people into poverty, and preventing imports of medicine
and other essentials, even during a pandemic.
sanctions have provoked retaliatory measures from Iran, including suspending
limits on its uranium enrichment and reducing cooperation with the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Trump’s, and now Biden’s,
policy has simply reconstructed the problems that preceded the JCPOA in 2015,
displaying the widely recognized madness of repeating something that didn’t
work and expecting a different result.
speak louder than words, the U.S. seizure of 27 Iranian and Yemeni
international news websites on June 22nd, based on the illegal, unilateral U.S.
sanctions that are among the most contentious topics of the Vienna
negotiations, suggests that the same madness still holds sway over U.S. policy.
took office, the critical underlying question is whether he and his
administration are really committed to the JCPOA or not. As a
presidential candidate, Senator Sanders promised to simply rejoin the JCPOA on
his first day as president, and Iran always said it was ready to comply with
the agreement as soon as the United States rejoined it.
been in office for five months, but the negotiations in Vienna did not begin
until April 6th. His failure to rejoin the agreement on taking office
reflected a desire to appease hawkish advisers and politicians who claimed he
could use Trump’s withdrawal and the threat of continued sanctions as
“leverage” to extract more concessions from Iran over its ballistic missiles,
regional activities and other questions.
extracting more concessions, Biden’s foot-dragging only provoked further
retaliatory action by Iran, especially after the assassination of an Iranian
scientist and sabotage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, both probably
committed by Israel.
great deal of help, and some pressure, from America’s European allies, it is
unclear how long it would have taken Biden to get around to opening
negotiations with Iran. The shuttle diplomacy taking place in Vienna is
the result of painstaking negotiations with both sides by former European
Parliament President Josep Borrell, who is now the European Union’s foreign
round of shuttle diplomacy has now concluded in Vienna without an agreement. President-elect
Raisi says he supports the negotiations in Vienna, but would not allow the
United States to drag them out for a long time.
U.S. official raised hopes for an agreement before Raisi takes office on August 3, noting
that it would be more difficult to reach an agreement after that. But a
State Department spokesman said talks would
continue when the new government takes office, implying that an agreement
was unlikely before then.
Biden had rejoined the JCPOA, Iran’s moderates might still have lost this
tightly managed election. But a restored JCPOA and the end of U.S.
sanctions would have left the moderates in a stronger position, and set Iran’s
relations with the United States and its allies on a path of normalization that
would have helped to weather more difficult relations with Raisi and his
government in the coming years.
fails to rejoin the JCPOA, and if the United States or Israel ends up at war
with Iran, this lost opportunity to quickly rejoin the JCPOA during his first
months in office will loom large over future events and Biden’s legacy as
United States does not rejoin the JCPOA before Raisi takes office, Iran’s
hard-liners will point to Rouhani’s diplomacy with the West as a failed
pipe-dream, and their own policies as pragmatic and realistic by contrast. In
the United States and Israel, the hawks who have lured Biden into this
slow-motion train-wreck will be popping champagne corks to celebrate Raisi’s
inauguration, as they move in to kill the JCPOA for good, smearing it as a deal
with a mass murderer.
rejoins the JCPOA after Raisi’s inauguration, Iran’s hard-liners will claim
that they succeeded where Rouhani and the moderates failed, and take credit for
the economic recovery that will follow the removal of U.S. sanctions.
other hand, if Biden follows hawkish advice and tries to play it tough, and
Raisi then pulls the plug on the negotiations, both leaders will score points
with their own hard-liners at the expense of majorities of their people who
want peace, and the United States will be back on a path of confrontation with
would be the worst outcome of all, it would allow Biden to have it both ways
domestically, appeasing the hawks while telling liberals that he was committed
to the nuclear deal until Iran rejected it. Such a cynical path of least
resistance would very likely be a path to war.
these counts, it is vital that Biden and the Democrats conclude an agreement
with the Rouhani government and rejoin the JCPOA. Rejoining it after
Raisi takes office would be better than letting the negotiations fail
altogether, but this entire slow-motion train-wreck has been characterized by
diminishing returns with every delay, from the day Biden took office.
people of Iran nor the people of the United States have been well served by
Biden’s willingness to accept Trump’s Iran policy as an acceptable alternative
to Obama’s, even as a temporary political expedient. To allow Trump’s
abandonment of Obama’s agreement to stand as a long-term U.S. policy would be
an even greater betrayal of the goodwill and good faith of people on all sides,
Americans, allies and enemies alike.
his advisers must now confront the consequences of the position their wishful
thinking and dithering has landed them in, and must make a genuine and serious
political decision to rejoin the JCPOA within days or weeks.