The Biden Administration, which is inheriting a polarized country and a monumental pandemic, does not want to have the added burden of dealing with a nuclear crisis in its very first year as well.  Yet, an urgent return to the Iran nuclear deal most likely involves a ‘who goes first’ approach, according to Virginia Tech international affairs expert Mehrzad Boroujerdi.  

“While the Biden Administration expects Iran to make the first move, the Iranians counter that since it was the U.S. that left the deal, it is they who should take the first step and return to it without any preconditions,” said Boroujerdi. “As such, I think we will be looking at a slowly simmering nuclear crisis this year and drawn-out negotiations that will involve Iran’s next President.”

President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, in 2018.

“I don’t believe President Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran worked considering the goal was to force Iran to agree to harsher terms and more extended deadlines on its nuclear program,” said Boroujerdi. “The Iranian ‘public position’ is that they will welcome U.S. returning to the agreement but that they are in no mood to renegotiate what they agreed to in 2015 since it means they have to give away more of the store. Furthermore, they maintain that Iran should not agree to discuss non-nuclear issues such as ballistic missiles or its regional activities in the Middle East.”

Still, Iran stands to gain much needed relief from a plethora of sanctions that have decimated its economy.

“Iran wants quick and unconditional lifting of all or most sanctions so that it can sell its oil, have access to its frozen assets throughout the world, and buy much needed supplies and equipment. That, however, is going to be difficult considering the legal and political complexities of lifting sanctions including secondary sanctions that prevent non-American firms from investing in Iran.”

The U.S very likely returns to a negotiating table with experience on its side.  Most of those who dealt with Iran in 2015 during the Obama Administration (Wendy Sherman, Jake Sullivan, Robert Malley, Brett McGurk and Antony Blinken) are now high-level members of the Biden team.

About Mehrzad Boroujerdi

Mehrzad Boroujerdi is director of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech.  Previously he was a professor of Political Science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs for over two dozen years. He is the author/editor of four books and has published numerous journal articles and book chapters on the Middle East. Dr. Boroujerdi has also been a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and UT-Austin, a visiting scholar at UCLA, President of the Association for Iranian Studies, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., and a fellow of the American Council on Education. He has done consulting work for Booz Allen Hamilton, Camber Corporation, Centra, L-3 Communications, Merrill Lynch, and Statoil among others. Dr. Boroujerdi has been interviewed by numerous national and international media outlets such as Al Jazeera, Associated Press, Economist, Guardian, LA Times, NPR, New York Times, Reuters, Spiegel and Washington Post.

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To secure a live or recorded interview with Mehrzad Boroujerdi, contact Bill Foy by email, or by phone at 540-998-0288.

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