US remains committed to JCPOA talks, despite Iran protests and regime crackdown

The protests in Iran and the regime’s repression “in no way changes our determination” to see that “Iran is permanently and verifiably barred from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Press Briefing by State Department Spokesman Ned Price. April 7, 2021. (Photo: United States Department of State Website)
Press Briefing by State Department Spokesman Ned Price. April 7, 2021. (Photo: United States Department of State Website)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – On Monday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price reaffirmed the Biden administration’s continued commitment to the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which former President Donald Trump left in 2018.

This is so, Price affirmed, despite the widespread protests in Iran, following the death of the young Kurdish woman, Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, while under detention by Tehran’s Morality Police for supposedly wearing her hijab improperly.

The US has condemned Tehran’s brutal repression of the protests, as has the European Union as a whole, while individual European countries, like Germany, have done so too.

Asked at Monday’s press briefing, if the protests and subsequent regime repression had influenced the US in regard to restoring the JCPOA, “considering that there’s so much, apparently, opposition to the government in Iran,” Price replied—in essence—no.

Single-Minded Fixation on Iran’s Nuclear Program

The protests in Iran and the regime’s repression “in no way changes our determination” to see that “Iran is permanently and verifiably barred from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Price responded.

He even claimed that, like other challenges, including Iran’s “support for terrorist groups and proxies,” as well as “its support for malign activity in cyberspace,” Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons would make its human rights abuses even worse.

That was hard for the press corps to accept, however. “If you go ahead and get a deal,” one journalist protested, Iran will get “hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars,” in sanctions relief, along with oil revenues.

“It’s not like they’re going to be using that money to plant flowers around downtown Tehran,” the experienced American reporter pressing Price continued.

“Some of that money” will “go to further repress the Iranian people,” he said.

His argument resembled the point made by Israeli officials, when they visited Washington earlier this month: restoring the JCPOA will provide Iran an enormous amount of money.

Read More: US: ‘Not too late’ to renew Iran nuclear accord, despite E-3, Israeli pessimism

Moreover, Israelis complain that key provisions of the JCPOA expire, so restoring it will not achieve the goal touted by the Biden administration: preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The tough questions that journalists posed to Price on Monday echoed those made by Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian-American analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in The Washington Post on Saturday.

“The unrest triggered by Amini’s death should push the Biden administration to reassess its Iran strategy,” Sadjadpour wrote. “Until now, the main focus of US policy toward Iran has been a fruitless attempt to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement,” which he described as “short-sighted.”

Instead, he called for a policy aiming to overthrow the regime, “whose identity is premised in opposing the United States.”

Iran has “enormous influence in four Arab capitals”:—Baghdad, as well as Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa, Sadjadpour stated, and it “has provided financial and military aid to anti-American dictatorships in Caracas and Pyongyang.”

“The Russian government has begun using Iranian kamikaze drones against Ukraine,” he continued.

“Iranian arms are fueling Africa’s wars. In virtually every cold or hot war in the world today, Tehran aligns itself against the United States,” he concluded.

No Agreement Any Time Soon

The Biden administration is, apparently, unwilling to acknowledge the futility of its efforts to renew the JCPOA. Similarly, it is, apparently, unwilling to set a deadline by which those negotiations must be completed.

Nonetheless, US officials have said they do not expect a renewal of the accord in the near future. That is what Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the CBS news program, “60 Minutes,” on Sunday.

“Iran has continued to try to add extraneous issues to the negotiation that we’re simply not going to say yes to,” Blinken said. Iran’s response “to the last proposals put forward by our European partners” has been “a very significant step backwards,” and “I don’t see any prospects in the very near term to bring this to a conclusion.”

Since last spring, Tehran has added two new conditions to the nuclear negotiations. It has demanded that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) end its probe into the presence of enriched uranium discovered at three undeclared sites.

The US, along with its European partners, are simply unwilling to even try to pressure the IAEA into doing so, without an adequate response from Tehran.

It was announced on Tuesday that discussions between the IAEA and Tehran to resolve this issue have resumed. It remains to be seen, however, whether the latest round of attacks, will produce any results.

In addition, Iran has demanded that the Biden administration commit future US administrations to the renewed JCPOA, so a withdrawal from the accord, as Trump carried out, is impossible.

The Biden administration, however, cannot legally do so. According to the US constitution, binding treaties require two-thirds approval from the senate, and such support simply does not exist in the US congress, which tends to be highly critical of the JCPOA.

Thus, as long as Iran sticks to its current position, a renewal of the accord appears highly unlikely. However, this leaves the initiative to Iran. If at any point, it decides to change its position, renewal of the JCPOA will, presumably, follow.

Also, it allows Tehran, perhaps in coordination with Moscow, to manipulate public opinion, particularly in Europe.

With Russia’s assault on Ukraine and the European decision to sharply reduce its import of Russian energy, the coming winter may bring very serious challenges. Europeans may suffer in the cold—as they have not suffered since World War II.

Yet there will always be out there the prospect of renewing oil supplies from a major oil producer—Iran—to ameliorate the Europeans’ suffering, if only the Americans would drop their tough and unreasonable position on renewing the JCPOA.