The Iran Problem.

            For decades, Shi’ite Iran pursued nuclear weapons, developed ballistic missiles, and supported terrorists around the Middle East as proxies in its war with Sunni Muslims.  With the American people clearly wary of any new war in the Middle East, President Barack Obama’s administration negotiated a multi-national agreement with Iran on part of these issues.  In return for relief from some of the painful international economic sanctions, Iran agreed to limits on its nuclear weapons development program for a limited time.[1]  President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the agreement.[2]  Both Iran and the Democrats bitterly criticized Trump’s action.  The election of President Joe Biden, then, seemed to promise a ready return to the agreement by both parties.  Nevertheless, difficulties arose in completing this restoration.[3] 

            For one thing, Iran’s government now wants more than it got from the Obama administration.  It wants more sanctions relief to allow it access to international financial services.  It wants to keep the nuclear-fuel production capacity it built up after President Trump abandoned the agreement.  To increase pressure on the Americans, it announced that it would raise the cap on enriching uranium from 3.67 percent to 60 percent, cutting the time needed to produce nuclear weapons if talks broke down. 

            For another thing, the United States government now wants more than it got from the Obama administration.  It wants immediate agreement to limits on Iran’s ballistic missiles and its support for proxy terrorism.  Furthermore, the United States wants to push out the duration of the agreement to prevent Iran from building a weapon for much longer than the original agreement.[4] 

            For yet another thing, Israel sees Iran’s government as a deadly enemy.  It sees the nuclear weapons program, the ballistic missiles, and the regime’s constant denunciations of Israel as warnings of a new Holocaust.  Israel has done everything it can—short of a bombing campaign conducted in co-operation with a nearly-as-skittish Saudi Arabia—to slow down Iran’s weapons programs.  Israeli intelligence purports to believe that Iran is much closer to making a weapon than do Americans.  The Israelis disliked the original deal, will really dislike any softer deal, and may see a no-deal as lighting a fuse. 

            The Iranian regime that negotiated the agreement with the Obama administration[5] has passed its sell-by date.  The Biden administration’s negotiations  took place under the shadow of a looming Iranian election likely to be won by “hard-liners”[6] who had criticized the original agreement.  In fact, this is what happened.  In contrast, the recent Israeli elections changed nothing except the prime minister. 


[1] I supported the agreement then and support it now.  That doesn’t mean that the critics of the agreement didn’t have valid points.  It’s just a case of “half a loaf is better than none” when the alternative is to start bombing. 

[2] His administration either re-imposed or created new sanctions for a total of 1,500. 

[3] Steven Erlanger and David E. Sanger, “Two Nations Divided By a Common Goal,” NYT, 10 May 2021. 

[4] Since these seem to have been the major Republican complaints about the original agreement, it would appear that we are actually experiencing Donald Trump’s second term, just without the egregious personal behavior.  See also: China policy, North Korea policy, Afghanistan policy, illegal immigration policy. 

[5] President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. 

[6] “Hard liners” is a term from the Soviet-American Cold War.  American observers often conjectured that a struggle took place within the Kremlin between “hard-liners” and “soft-liners” or “moderates.”  For a time, British diplomats applied the same sort of analysis to understanding the pre-war Nazi regime.  At least in the latter case, the distinction between “hard-liners” and “moderates” was purely wishful thinking.  Probably an example of projection.