(CNSNews.com) – The campaign to influence the incoming Biden administration’s policy towards Iran picked up pace over the weekend, with three U.S. allies in the Gulf urging Washington not to return to the 2015 nuclear deal repudiated by President Trump, while France argued that U.S. re-entry was urgent, given the regime’s stepped-up nuclear activities.
In a striking show of unity, the Washington-based ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Israel contended that the new administration will wield significant leverage over Tehran and should not squander that by simply returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and then looking to reopen talks on other troubling regime behavior.
(President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he will re-enter the JCPOA, if Iran returns to compliance, and then launch negotiations in consultation with allies, dealing with other Iranian conduct. 150 House Democrats signed a letter last month urging him to do so.)
Participating in a virtual discussion hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the three ambassadors argued that the U.S. should bring into the process its Mideast allies – those most directly impacted by the Iranian regime’s belligerence – together with the Europeans, in order to strengthen the U.S.’s hand.
“We don’t think the voices of the region were represented at the negotiations [that produced the JCPOA in 2015],” said UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba. “Let’s look at how to strengthen it and not cede all the leverage that you have upfront. Let’s strengthen the U.S. diplomatic team and bring in your regional partners who tend to be aligned on this.”
Otaiba said the leverage was considerable, resulting from Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, mindset changes in the region as reflected in Israeli-Arab normalization accords, the coronavirus pandemic, and low oil prices.
“There is a lot of leverage that the U.S. has over Iran right now,” he said. “One of the things we should seriously consider doing is look at a bigger and better JCPOA 2.0, one that addresses the shortcomings of JCPOA 1.0.”
“I think we should have a high set of objectives – not just on the nuclear side, but also on missiles, and on proxies, and on interference [in the region], because we have the leverage to back it up right now,” Otaiba said. “And, if you come to the table with your Arab partners and your European partners, I think you’re demonstrating a stronger negotiating team, which ultimately would lead you to a better outcome.”
“We are definitely opposed to going back to the same deal, and we hope the new administration will sit down with Israel, will sit down with the Emirates, with Bahrain, with its other allies in the region, talk to us because we live in the region, we know a little something about our own security,” agreed Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.
“Israel and the Arab states are on the same page, as you say, when it comes to Iran,” he said. “I think that means something, and hopefully, we can engage in that dialogue with the new Biden administration and hopefully find that common ground moving forward.”
Bahraini Ambassador Abdulla Bin Rashid Al Khalifa reiterated that Bahrain had supported Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and hopes that “an incoming administration will recognize that Iran’s malign activities and ballistic missile capabilities are equally as troublesome to Iran’s neighbors as its nuclear program is.”
“Any return to the JCPOA should take into consideration the concerns of Iran’s neighbors, including the Gulf and Israel, those that have been on the forefront of Iranian aggression for 40 years now.”
The JCPOA was negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. After Trump withdrew, the regime began to breach its obligations under the deal, while the three European partners have struggled to keep it intact. They are looking to Biden to rejoin quickly.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at the weekend Iran was in the process of building up its nuclear weapons capacity, and that it was urgent that both Iran and the U.S. return to the JCPOA.
“The Trump administration chose what it called the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign on Iran,” he was quoted as telling Journal du Dimanche. “The result was that this strategy only increased the risk and the threat. This has to stop because Iran – and I say this clearly – is in the process of acquiring nuclear capacity.”
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif on Twitter called Le Drian’s claim about Iran’s nuclear activity “absurd nonsense.”
Earlier this month Iran began to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity, well above the 3.67 percent limit set by the JCPOA.
During the FDD discussion, the ambassadors agreed that any new deal should not allow Iran the right to enrich uranium at all.
The JCPOA permitted it to do so, within specified limits. It was a major concession to Tehran, since six U.N. Security Council resolutions passed between 2006 and 2010 demanded that Iran suspend “all” enrichment.
A domestic enrichment capacity is not a requirement for a nuclear energy program. Of the two dozen non-nuclear weapons states that have nuclear energy programs, only five apart from Iran enrich at home – Argentina, Brazil. Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. The rest obtain fuel for their reactors from abroad, under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision. They include the UAE, whose decision to forego the right to enrich enabled it to sign a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with the U.S. in 2009.
Alluding to that decision by his own country, the Emirati ambassador questioned the need for Iran to be allowed to enrich.
“I think the best way to prevent a country that you have security concerns from about reaching an enrichment level that is dangerous and getting up to weapons-grade, is to not have an enrichment cycle,” he said, adding that the leverage the U.S. now enjoys provides an opportunity to take that stand with Iran.
The event moderator, FDD chief executive Mark Dubowitz, wondered if by allowing Iran to enrich while expecting countries like the UAE not to do so, the U.S. was “sending out a message that if you’re an ally, we don’t trust you with a nuclear fuel cycle, but if you’re an enemy and the leading state sponsor of terrorism, we do?”
“I find it fascinating and interesting that your three countries are on the same page with respect to the fact that Iran should not get enrichment and reprocessing and that Iran should not – this regime should not have the ability to produce fissile material on its soil,” he said.
Democrat foreign policy thinking has long held that it’s unrealistic not to permit Iran to enrich. John Kerry, who as secretary of state in the Obama administration led the JCPOA talks, argued back in 2009 that insisting Iran stop enriching uranium altogether was “ridiculous” and an example of “bombastic diplomacy.”