Biden to rejoin JCPOA if Iran returns to commitments: ex-Obama aide


TEHRAN — Robert Malley, a special assistant to former U.S. President Barack Obama, has said President-elect Joe Biden intends to join the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) on condition that Iran comes back into compliance with the text.

“Iran says the same thing, namely that Tehran is ready to return under the JCPOA if the United States does the same. Both parties have an interest in it,” Malley said in an interview with Le Point published on Friday.

He said the Islamic Republic wants an economic lull, and the Biden administration does not want another crisis with Iran. 

“A priori, the laws of political gravity mean that the two countries will probably move in the same direction on this point,” he added.

“There is a total lack of confidence on the part of the Iranians, who have the conviction, not necessarily illegitimate, that the next American president will hasten to tear up the agreement which will have been resuscitated by Joe Biden.”

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and imposed the “toughest ever” economic sanctions on Iran. Trump’s Iran policy has been described by observers as an abject failure.

Malley pointed out that there are still headwinds for the two countries to come closer, including Iran’s demand of financial compensation because it did not benefit from the lifting of sanctions on the economic level.

He said it’s highly unlikely that the Biden administration would accept that.

“Then there are different approaches to the sequence of American and Iranian returns under the nuclear deal and they will have to be reconciled. In addition, the Trump administration has built a wall of sanctions against Iran, and continues to do so as it is on its way out,” he remarked. 

“Admittedly, the elected president can cancel them, but these measures aim to make politically difficult an American return to the JCPOA,” he added.

Malley, who is currently the president and CEO of the International Crisis Group in Washington, D.C., referred to Iran’s upcoming presidential elections, saying the upcoming polls risk making the domestic political scene more divided and less likely to accept a compromise.

He argued that the Trump experience proves to the Iranians that the commitments of one president can be easily erased by another, hence a lack of confidence. 

But despite all these difficulties, he continued, “it seems to me that each side has more to gain from returning to the JCPOA, than the other way around. There is in fact no real satisfactory alternative.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, Malley rejected the notion that Iran is an isolated country in the world.

“First of all, Iran is not isolated. This country has good relations with Europe, Russia and China,” he said, adding that Biden would bring back the Iranian-American diplomacy, which was pursued under the Obama administration.

“There is a total lack of confidence on the part of the Iranians, who have the conviction, not necessarily illegitimate, that the next American president will hasten to tear up the agreement which will have been resuscitated by Joe Biden.”

“I said earlier that the Trump administration is seeking to erect a wall of sanctions to prevent his successor from joining the agreement,” he predicted.

Malley maintained that the Biden administration will have to build a diplomatic wall strong enough that no one comes back to the JCPOA a second time. 

“The lesson we can take from the past four years is that if we really want a strong deal that can survive, it needs to cover other topics and address the deeper motives of the Iran-U.S. tensions,” he added.

Asked whether a detente between Tehran and Washington would anger U.S. allies in West Asia, Malley said the main point will therefore be to transform the regional context so that a dialogue can be established between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“This is an important condition for the relationship between Tehran and Washington to move to a higher level,” he concluded.

MH/PA

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