In 2015, the United States, Iran, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia agreed on the Joint Cooperation Plan of Action (JCPOA), a five-pronged deal to limit Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions previously imposed on Iran. This so-called “Iran Nuclear Deal” soon became one of the crowning achievements of President Obama’s tenure.
However, the United States’ participation in the deal did not last long — President Trump withdrew from JCPOA in 2018, claiming in his typical hyperbolic fashion that it was the “worst deal ever.” Now, the world turns to President Biden. The decision whether to rejoin the deal or continue to impose sanctions on Iran will set the tone for the future of Biden’s diplomatic agenda.
Fortunately, for the current president, the choice is clear: Biden should reassert the United States on the international stage and rejoin the Iran deal.
Despite Trump’s claims, there is virtually no evidence that the deal was ineffective. So far, both parties have mostly upheld their end of the bargain, and the rare instances of alleged infractions have been shut down by the United Nations and other watchdog organizations. It is often argued that the deal initially failed to halt Iran’s funding of terrorist groups like Hezbollah. But this misses the mark — the Iran deal never intended to address Iran’s mischief-making in the greater Middle East. Rather, it focused solely on its nuclear program. And, in that regard, it succeeded.
Critics of the JCPOA might also add that reimposing sanctions gives the United States more economic leverage against a dangerous, unpredictable Iranian government. This argument is too narrow. The US-Iran relationship is not unilateral. US-Iran cooperation is vital for international peace and security. Just two years after Trump’s withdrawal from JCPOA in early 2020, US-Iran tensions nearly reached a tipping point, sparking fears of war. If Biden rejoined the deal (effectively lifting sanctions), a new level of US-Iran cooperation would come about and relations would improve.
The United States is missing out on a critical opportunity to assert itself in the international arena and show its allies that international cooperation is still on the table (as it should be). If Biden knew what was best for America, he would resume constructive diplomatic discussions with its most important allies and ultimately rejoin JCPOA.
If anything is clear, it is this: Biden was dealt a tough hand. In the past few years, America’s relationship with Iran has deteriorated, and its unity with allies has also taken a hit. Even if the current nuclear deal is not perfect — and it isn’t — it remains the best option for the foreseeable future.