by Tanmayi Rayavaram
Signed in 2015 by Iran and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (plus Germany), the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), nicknamed “The Iran Nuclear Deal,” allows world powers to monitor Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for economic sanctions relief. However, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA in 2018, scrapping one of President Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements and leaving Iran vulnerable harm caused by economic sanctions. Another result is that Iran is now closer to building a nuclear bomb, the exact threat the JCPOA aimed to avert, than ever in history, about 1-2 years away from mobilizing such a weapon. Despite this threat to national security, President Joe Biden has yet to rejoin the JCPOA, disregarding his promise to do so during his campaign.
In response, Massachusetts Peace Action invited advocates and analysts to discuss the overall state of US-Iran relations. On July 21st, MAPA hosted “Iran Deal Update,” an all-star panel discussion featuring Dr. Assal Rad, the research director for the National Iranian American Council; Giorgio Cafiero, CEO and Founder of Gulf State Analytics; Professor Peter Beattie, whose research focuses on the role of ideas and information in the political economy, and Derek Davidson, a journalist, and co-host of the American Prestige podcast.
The discussion opened up with the looming question: what’s the current state of the Iran Deal? President Biden had recently returned from his first presidential trip to the Middle East, to Saudi Arabia and Israel. In a controversial decision, he met with Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Benjamin Netanyahu, both strong supporters of using military threats to combat Iran’s rising nuclear power. During the visit, the United States and Israel signed a deal that vowed never to allow Iran to gain access to nuclear weapons.
Dr. Assal Rad led the discussion claiming that US-Iran relations are in a “stalemate.” The Biden Administration has maintained the same stance as the Trump administration, confusing many Biden supporters. Many supposed that this issue would be handled with the same urgency as the Paris climate accords or the rescindment of the Muslim Ban, explained Dr. Rad. The United States’ lack of action to rejoin the JCPOA lies in the hands of what Dr. Assal Rad called “indirect talks.” All communication between Tehran and Washington has been indirect during the Biden Administration. The media claims the United States has set new ground rules for what they will accept to rejoin the JCPOA, and that it is Iran’s inability to communicate and “return” to the deal that has led to the stalemate. In reality, it is the United States that unilaterally left the JCPOA.
Derek Davison added that the Biden Administration has not worked to undo the Trump Administration’s decision but instead is attempting to capitalize on the bad decision. Biden had the ability to rejoin the JCPOA from day one. Instead he has taken a longer, more time-consuming approach to reimpose even harsher economic sanctions, disguising delay as an attempt to secure a “stronger” deal.
Giorgia Cafiero added some history, reminding the audience that the Iran Nuclear Deal was never a deal that “required both sides to get everything they wanted.” He made the point that many arguments against rejoining the deal are being made in bad faith, and essentially the U.S is finding excuses not to rejoin the JCPOA. It is practically impossible for Iran to negotiate a nuclear deal that also results “in cutting off Hezbollah, the Syrian government…(and) getting rid of their ballistic missiles program,” components of the so-called “stronger deal.” In reality, US diplomats are aware that these aspirations are far-fetched; rather, this laundry list of unreasonable demands against Iran makes evident their dislike for the JCPOA since its inception.
Peter Beattie offered an activist perspective, stating that many people in the United States lack foreign policy knowledge and do not see greater safety in the provisions of the JCPOA for American national security.
What is often lost in the discussion of the JCPOA is the effect that the economic sanctions have on the Iranian people, not only those living in Iran but also Iranian-Americans. Dr. Rad spoke about the social and cultural discrimination against people with Iranian last names, herself being Iranian, who “get their bank accounts closed..” and passports reexamined. She drew parallels to the economic sanctions on Iran and those implemented in Afghanistan, claiming that more Afghani people may die after the war due to the sanctions than died during the long conflict. Though it is widely accepted that economic sanctions are used to prevent deadly conflict; in reality, they impose humanitarian crises: starvation, housing displacement, and discrimination which are just as disastrous if not worse than the implications of war.
The discussion circled back to another reason why President Biden visited Saudi Arabia and Israel. There had been talk about the potential resumption of offensive weapons sales by the United States for use in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. The main reason why Biden visited the Middle East was to ensure the loyalty of countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia to the United States rather than China. Davison remarked that the trip was not only an effort to counter Iran but also an attempt to assure the Middle East that America has not forgotten about them, and that the US is a better political and economic ally than China.
The panel then opened to audience questions. The panelists discussed the importance of mobilizing the media, reading data from public opinion research, and educating American citizens. Audience member Robert Goerke stated his opposition to the mainstream media and government propaganda. “Israel has well over 300 nuclear weapons in the Middle East,” said Goerke, and we are pointing fingers at the wrong people.” Dr. Asaal Rad added that the issue of nuclear non-proliferation lies within the hands of two democratic nations, Israel and the United States. These are the only two regions opposed to making the Middle East a nuclear free-zone.