The Stream

Can Biden cool tensions with Iran?

On Wednesday, February 24 at 19:30 GMT:
US President Joe Biden says his administration is ready to return to an international nuclear accord with Iran that his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned. But sticking points about the conditions under which the US comes back to the deal hamper an already precarious relationship between Washington and Tehran.

Biden promised in November that, if elected, he would order the US to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a 2015 agreement with major world powers and the European Union which offered Iran sanctions relief in return for restrictions on its nuclear programmes. In 2018 Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal in favour of a policy of ‘maximum pressure’, angering Iran and disappointing other major world powers who are signatories to the agreement.

The US State Department on February 19 signalled US openness to an “informal meeting” with Iran over the faltering nuclear deal. But while the Biden administration has withdrawn Trump’s restoration of UN ‘snapback’ sanctions against Iran, he has so far refused to relax US-authored sanctions until Iran rolls back nuclear activity that it has accelerated in recent months.

Biden’s stance has irritated leaders in Tehran. They want the US to stop sanctions that have badly hit its economy and its people before Iran comes back into compliance with the nuclear pact – particularly in light of the fact the US undermined the original agreement when it walked away from it nearly three years ago. With the two countries at odds, Iran’s government on Sunday reached a short-term deal with the UN’s international nuclear agency that allows ‘necessary’ monitoring of its nuclear programmes while blocking snap inspections. That has angered some politicians in Iran’s parliament.

Other issues are clouding the perennially fraught relationship between Washington and Tehran. The US assassination of top military commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 sparked anger across Iran, with Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei continuing to vow revenge. Iran says the US supported Israel in the recent killing of a senior nuclear physicist in November.

There is also nervousness across the wider region, amid tit-for-tat attacks between the two countries and its local allies. A pro-Iran armed group in Iraq called Awliyaa al-Dam says it carried out a recent rocket attack in Erbil which killed a contractor working for the US military. Iran denies allegations of links to the attack.

With mistrust between the US and Iran as deep as ever, will Biden make a clean break with the Trump era when it comes to Iran – and what lies ahead for the Washington-Tehran relationship? Join the conversation.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Jason Blazakis, @Jason_Blazakis
Senior Research Fellow, The Soufan Center

Assal Rad, @AssalRad
Senior Research Fellow, National Iranian American Council

Setareh Sadeqi, @Leelako