President Joe Biden is on the verge of reviving the Iran nuclear deal. The most recent alleged Iranian murder plot isn’t helping matters.
The news that the Justice Department has charged an Iranian operative in connection with a suspected plot to assassinate former Trump administration national security adviser John Bolton has renewed calls in Washington for Biden to abandon the nuclear talks. The Bolton case follows the recent arrest of a man on suspicion of being involved in an Iranian plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American critic of the Tehran regime.
The revelations have bolstered the nuclear deal’s detractors, a bipartisan group that believes the Iranian government cannot be trusted and that any deal with Tehran must cover its misdeeds beyond its nuclear ambitions. The news also highlights the perilous nature of the US-Iran relationship, which is adversarial and lethal even when the two countries are negotiating sensitive issues.
Alinejad echoed that sentiment, adding that the US should further punish Iran by expelling its diplomats in the country, such as those serving at Iran’s UN mission. Some regime critics argue that the United States should deny a visa to Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, if he wishes to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next month.
Bolton, a long-time critic of the nuclear agreement, suggested that his position had been vindicated. In a statement, Bolton said, “Iran’s nuclear weapons and terrorist activities are two sides of the same coin. No responsible American government should believe otherwise.”
For the time being, Biden has not indicated that he will abandon efforts to restore the nuclear agreement. The agreement was reached under President Barack Obama in 2015, but President Donald Trump withdrew the US from it in 2018, and Iran began violating its terms a year later. Reviving it would imply lifting a slew of sanctions against Iran in exchange for severe limits on its nuclear program. Despite the fact that he has repeatedly dispatched a special envoy to restore the agreement — the talks have been ongoing for well over a year — Biden has not been overly enthusiastic or in a hurry.
For example, Trump has stated that he will not lift a terrorism designation imposed on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iranian negotiators had previously demanded that label be removed as part of the deal’s relaunch, but they appear to have backtracked.
The talks to resurrect the agreement have been aided by European officials acting as go-betweens for Iranian and American negotiators. A so-called final draft of an agreement on how to resurrect the deal has been distributed. European officials hope to reach an agreement with all parties within the next few days.
They want the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, to conclude an investigation into why traces of nuclear material were discovered at some Iranian sites. Iran denies any wrongdoing. However, Iran has not allowed the IAEA as much access as it would like, including by shutting down surveillance equipment. Western officials hope to reach a separate agreement that addresses such concerns.
Throughout the talks to re-establish the deal, Iran has continued with its nuclear program, despite Tehran’s insistence that it does not intend to produce nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Washington has increased sanctions against Iran in order to increase economic pressure on the regime to return to the deal. The sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on Iran’s economy. Even if Iran returns to the nuclear deal, the United States will impose numerous sanctions on the country.
Last summer, reports surfaced of an alleged Iranian plot to kidnap Alinejad, whose criticisms of Iran’s government frequently center on its oppression of women. A man allegedly armed with an AK-47 and acting strangely near Alinejad’s Brooklyn home was arrested last month, raising concerns that he was targeting the activist.
Biden aides argue that restoring the nuclear deal is an important way to at least temporarily ease concerns about a major security issue in the Middle East. But as the negotiations have dragged on, domestic opposition to returning to the agreement has intensified.