Calls for Diplomacy--Not War--as Scientist's Assassination, Trump Impede Biden's Path to Iran Engagement

Progressive group Win Without War tweeted Monday that "the Trump administration's maximum pressure against Iran has been a maximum failure." (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/via Getty Images)

Calls for Diplomacy--Not War--as Scientist's Assassination, Trump Impede Biden's Path to Iran Engagement

"We cannot let anyone drag us into a new war."

Rep. Ro Khanna on Monday called for strengthened diplomacy to "prevent catastrophic war" with Iran amid swirling fears the Trump administration is recklessly sabotaging the Biden White House's prospects for such diplomatic efforts.

The post from Khanna (D-Calif.) tweet was shared by Win Without War, which earlier on Monday sounded a similar note as Sen. Chris Murphy.

"A Monday morning reminder that the Trump administration's maximum pressure against Iran has been a maximum failure," the group tweeted.

The lawmaker's tweet came in the wake of the Friday assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh as he traveled by car east of Tehran. Questions remain about who ordered and carried out the killing. Iran has accused Israel of being behind the murder.

It is unclear if the U.S. was involved; adding to suspicions it was are President Donald Trump's Friday share of a tweet describing the killing as a "major psychological and professional blow" to Iran; reports of secret meeting just over a week ago between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and the Trump administration's continued escalation of tensions between Iran and the U.S. including through crippling sanctions.

Among the foreign policy analysts seeing the killing as an effort to thwart diplomacy, including hopes for a revived nuclear deal--the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action--is Iranian American journalist and host of "The Iran Podcast" Negar Mortazavi.

Speaking to Democracy Now! Monday, Mortazavi called the assassination "a political move to first try to provoke Iran into a violent retaliation and basically pull Iran into a wider military conflict with the United States and then also complicate future negotiations between Tehran and Washington when President-elect Biden enters office."

"I think the Biden administration should prioritize returning to diplomacy, to the nuclear deal and make it fast and clean, to then continue follow-on negotiations beyond the JCPOA," she said.

Suggestions the Trump White House is hampering future diplomacy for Biden preceded the scientist's death.

Assal Rad, Senior Research Fellow with the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), wrote at Responsible Statecraft last week: "That it is difficult to even ascertain what the goal of this administration's Iran policy was, or is, exemplifies the incoherence of Trump's whole presidency. Now, in their waning days, Pompeo has promised even more sanctions, using every tool at his disposal to make it more difficult for a future Biden administration to return to diplomacy, despite the fact that the majority of Americans have long favored diplomatic solutions with Iran."

The situation has drawn the eyes of the European Council on Foreign Relations, which warned Monday that "[a]ny escalation in advance of Biden's inauguration would greatly complicate diplomatic efforts." A joint statement from six of its members added:

It is critical for the stability of the Middle East that the United States and Iran urgently cool tensions and restore diplomatic engagement on a range of issues. This should start with rehabilitating the nuclear deal, which is a critical global non-proliferation agreement, and move towards the wider set of issues fueling regional instability that is so detrimental to European interests.

With European support, a Biden administration can take advantage of the positive signaling from the Rouhani government--in its final eight months left in office--welcoming Biden's stated aim of returning to the JCPOA and readiness to 'walk the path of diplomacy' with Iran.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made a similar plea for diplomacy over the weekend.

"The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was reckless, provocative, and illegal," Sanders tweeted Saturday. "As a new administration takes power, it was clearly intended to undermine U.S.-Iran diplomacy. We must not allow that to happen. Diplomacy, not murder, is the best path forward."

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