Nuclear talks between the US and Iran were suspended last month and may resume after Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi took office in August. But Iran’s behavior during the interregnum shows what it thinks about President Biden’s overtures to arms control.
Federal prosecutors said last week that an Iranian intelligence network was planning to kidnap a US citizen in New York and bring them to Iran. Masih Alinejad, a dual US-Iranian citizen, has reported extensively on human rights violations by the Islamic Republic. The journalist has built a large following on social networks as he pushed for a tougher American approach to Tehran.
Prosecutors, who charged four Iranian nationals, said Iranian intelligence has targeted others in Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Last year, Tehran executed Ruhollah Zam, a France-based Iranian exile who was kidnapped while traveling in Iraq. Europe has previously imposed sanctions on Iran for planning terrorist attacks and assassinations on the continent.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that an Iranian commander has encouraged Iran-backed militias to step up attacks on US targets in Iraq and Syria. Shia militias have attacked US positions in Iraq at least 26 times since President Biden took office, estimates Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Biden twice this year ordered retaliatory attacks on the armed groups. But two US servicemen were injured this month in a rocket attack after the US’s latest pinprick.
Iran’s violations of the 2015 nuclear deal also continue. Lame duck President Hassan Rouhani says the country can enrich uranium to weapons purity, or about 90%. So far, it’s stopped at 60%, but that’s well above the 3.67% allowed under the deal. The government is producing other illegal material and is ignoring its inspection obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even Russian diplomat Mikhail Ulyanov admitted: “Iran seems to be going too far.”
None of this has stopped the Biden administration from holding six rounds of indirect talks with the Iranians, who have demanded the lifting of sanctions in return for compliance with nuclear laws. According to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Washington is ready to lift sanctions against the Supreme Leader; lift restrictions on all but one Iranian banks; and revoke the designation as a foreign terrorist for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He says the US has also agreed to undo several executive orders and drop other sanctions.
Zarif could be lying, but his claims fit the pattern of negotiations between Obama and Biden. The US offers a concession in a spirit of goodwill, but Iran demands more. The US makes another concession and Iran demands more. That’s how John Kerry ended up with a limited-time nuclear deal, including a weak inspection regime of suspicious sites in Iran, and neglected Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional imperialism.
Mr Raisi has ruled out further talks on these issues until both countries return to the nuclear deal. Add that to Iran’s continued bad behavior on multiple fronts, and Mr Biden has ample reason to walk away from the nuclear talks and keep sanctions under pressure.
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Appeared in the print edition on July 19, 2021.