Progressive experts on U.S.-Iranian relations on Wednesday urged caution—and expressed hope for renewed diplomatic efforts from the incoming Biden administration—following news that Iran's parliament voted to increase uranium enrichment just days after the nation's top nuclear scientist was gunned down in an assassination plot endorsed by President Donald Trump and which many believe was carried out by the Israeli government.
"There is only one path that has succeeded in altering Iran's calculations and rolling back Iran's nuclear program: persistent, direct, and multilateral diplomacy."
—Ryan Costello, NIAC
Iran's response to the November 27 murder of nuclear physicist Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh came on Tuesday in the form of a bill in the Majlis, or parliament, that would suspend United Nations inspections of the country's nuclear facilities and compel the government to increase uranium enrichment if Euoprean nations that signed the landmark 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) don't provide relief from deadly U.S.-led economic sanctions.
Iranian state media reported that 251 of 260 Majlis members voted to approve a draft of the bill, even as President Hassan Rouhani opposed the measure, believing it to be "harmful to the trend of diplomatic activities" in service of saving the JCPOA, commonly called the Iran nuclear deal. Under pressure from hardliners in the U.S. and Israel, President Donald Trump unilaterally abrogated the six-nation agreement in May 2018—even after certifying Tehran regime's compliance with its terms.
Rouhani's opposition to parliament's move is likely aimed at President-elect Joe Biden, who repeated his intention to re-engage Iran and rejoin the JCPOA in an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman published Wednesday.
.@RyeCostello: “President-Elect Biden has recently reiterated his desire to return the US to its commitments under the nuclear deal and the Iranian parliament's latest move, however unhelpful, should not jeopardize this commitment”https://t.co/UxUiU4Za3O
— NIAC (@NIACouncil) December 2, 2020
As it has periodically done over the past two decades, the U.S. intelligence community last year affirmed that Iran is not trying to build nuclear weapons and that Tehran remained in compliance with the JCPOA even after the U.S. reneged on the deal.
Faced with such inconvenient reality, neoconservatives and others hostile to Iran have resorted to either misinformation or shifting the goal posts regarding Tehran's intentions or military capabilities.
Now, say hawkish U.S. voices like Friedman, it's not about nuclear weapons, but rather long-range missiles and even its drones.
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"Look," Biden told Friedman, "there's a lot of talk about precision missiles and all range of other things that are destabilizing the region. [But] the best way to achieve getting some stability in the region" involves dealing "with the nuclear program."
Important comments by Biden:
1. He rejects the illusion of using Trump's sanctions "leverage" to renegotiate the JCPOA.
2. Focus will be on "add-on" agreements post-JCPOA. The JCPOA stays either way.
3. Include Saudi/UAE in the add-on negotiations.https://t.co/iN7hoZceEU
— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) December 2, 2020
Biden's willingness to re-engage the Iranian regime and Rouhani's opposition to the Majlis bill were welcomed by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), whose policy director, Ryan Costello, on Wednesday condemned what he called the Trump administration's "outrageous and illegal actions" that he said are "aimed at closing the door on diplomacy" and making any Biden-era rapprochement more difficult. Costello warned that:
It is likely that hawks will twist Iran's reversible counter-escalation out of perspective and call for more disastrous military steps on Trump's way out the door. There is only one path that has succeeded in altering Iran's calculations and rolling back Iran's nuclear program: persistent, direct, and multilateral diplomacy. President-elect Biden has recently reiterated his desire to return the U.S. to its commitments under the nuclear deal and the Iranian parliament's latest move, however unhelpful, should not jeopardize this commitment.
The window to get back into the nuclear deal, and stave off growing threats of war, will be short. It is imperative that those committed to resolving the U.S.-Iran standoff through diplomacy stay resolute and move quickly to shore up the biggest diplomatic breakthrough between the two countries in more than 40 years.
Costello's warning mirrored recent exhortations from progressive lawmakers and peace activists.
"The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was reckless, provocative, and illegal," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on 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."
On Monday, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) cautioned: "We cannot let anyone drag us into a new war. Diplomacy is the way to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and prevent catastrophic war."