There is a small window of opportunity between President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration and presidential elections in Iran that would be ideal for negotiations.
In sharp contrast to Donald Trump's administration, three nominees in President-elect Joe Biden’s National Security Council are vociferous defenders of the Iran nuclear deal or 'Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action'.
That’s good news for Iran despite the hardliners’ claim that Biden's victory counts for nothing. Iranians will be looking forward to the urgently needed sanctions relief.
The “moderates” in President Hassan Rouhani’s camp and the reformists are cautiously optimistic that it may result in a resurgence of their popularity in the forthcoming presidential election slated for June.
A revival of the JCPOA would bring Rouhani, the original architect of talks with the West, back to centre stage giving his final months in office a new momentum.
The incoming US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan and the environment Tsar, John Kerry have all worked first hand with Iranian officials through two years of painstaking negotiations that led to the Iran nuclear deal on 14 July 2015.
Their style of communication is diametrically opposed to that of Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton - infamous for their hawkish distaste of Iran. Their campaign of 'maximum pressure' has brought irreparable hardship to Iranians.
John Bolton’s recent book “The Room Where It Happened” reveals that it was in fact Donald Trump who repeatedly rejected their advice to attack Iran.
It is expected that the new “diplomacy based” approach will include a mission to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, more pressure on Saudi Arabia over human rights violations, and a relaunch of attempts to bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.
“If the next American statesmen have such a determination,” said Rouhani referring to the revival of JCPOA, “I think settlement of the problem will be quite easy.”
He could not have made that remark without prior approval of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The parliamentary speaker, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) also softened his tone, inviting Joe Biden to “prove his sincerity” and take practical steps not “futile rhetoric and claims”.
Mahmoud Sadeghi, a leading reformist, asked officials to allow Rouhani to use the new possibilities in international relations to “take necessary steps in the national interest”.
Yet the hardline Kayhan warned about failed American promises.
Iran’s hardliners argue that Democrats such as Barack Obama have placed the heaviest sanction on Iran. But Obama describes in his new book “A Promised Land” how he tried on several occasions – originally by writing a secret letter to Ayatollah Khamenei to hold talks – but he was always rebuffed.
Iran’s hardliners are now grinning at Saudi Arabia and Israel losing their protector-in-chief in the White House.
Both countries are worried about the changing tide of politics in the Middle East and its consequences for them once Biden rejoins JCPOA. The secret meeting held in Neom between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed these concerns but Israel was not successful in persuading MBS to normalise relations.
Israel is secure in knowing that the new US Secretary of State would remain supportive. Yet it is also clear that Blinken’s approach to the Middle East would allow greater space for the Palestinians.
He was critical of the Trump administration's decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - and as a staunch supporter of the nuclear deal, he criticised Trump for abandoning it in 2018.
But the dilemma arises in trying to return to the Iran nuclear deal while at the same time curbing Iran’s missile program and also persuading the Saudis to end the conflict in Yemen.
On Monday, the hardline press in Iran boasted about “the heroic Quds 2 Ballistic Missile attack” by the Houthis on Saudi Aramco.
“It was a strategic move, well timed to coincide with the Saudi-Israeli meeting, warning them not to miscalculate their moves,” said Mehr News.
Despite that, broadening JCPOA to include Iran’s missile program or Middle East policy would be out of the question at this stage. As would Iran’s demand for receiving compensation for the two years of extra sanctions by the Trump administration. These are matters that should be left for future negotiations.
For now, finding a way to actually return to JCPOA and undo the sanctions imposed by Trump may prove technically complex. And time is short. Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif, suggested that the US should go through UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
Ideally, they should get the JCPOA rolling while Rouhani is still in office: the window between January 21 when Biden begins his term and June 18 when Iran’s presidential elections are due.
If that happens then the moderate and reformist voices in Iran, totally sidelined at present, would be emboldened again, reducing the chances of an IRGC president leading to a military theocracy.
In that case, Biden’s preferred route of diplomacy might have a better chance of success.
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