Biden commences talks with Iran, but Trump’s sanctions loom large

U.S. negotiators, led by the ardently anti-Israel Robert Malley, will begin “indirect” talks with Iran. Team Biden craved direct negotiations, but Iran wouldn’t oblige.

Thus, the U.S. representatives won’t actually attend the talks, which will take place in Vienna. Instead, the European members of the Iran nuclear deal — Britain, France, and Germany — will serve as go-betweens with Iran.

Iran is demanding that the U.S. lift all sanctions against it as a first step in negotiations. Biden may be willing to meet this demand, but he is constrained by the fact that Trump, in addition to reinstating old sanctions imposed against Iran for developing its nuclear program, imposed hundreds of new ones that are unrelated to that program.

These sanctions were imposed because Iran sponsored terrorism and waged war by proxy in the region. They include sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as terrorists.

The Iran nuclear deal lifted only nuclear-related sanctions. Thus, a U.S. return to the deal would not entail lifting a great many new sanctions.

A serious U.S. administration might view the new sanctions as providing leverage. The Biden administration apparently views them as major complications.

To be fair, it must be noted that Trump’s policy towards Iran was unsuccessful. He did not force Iran to negotiate a new, improved deal, which was his stated intent. He did not induce regime change. He did not take out Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But at least he weakened Iran and probably decreased its ability to make trouble in the regime. Now, Biden is prepared to forfeit that marginal benefit in exchange for a deal that cannot prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the coming years.

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