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Is Russia Preparing to Get Closer to Iran in the Biden Era?

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Moscow is preparing to counter President Biden’s stringent policy against Russia, that was depicted as the “biggest threat” to the U.S. Recent remarks by Russian officials suggest that Moscow sees the Trump administration’s two main Iran policy legacies in the Middle East, i.e., withdrawing from JCPOA and emboldening Israel through peace deals, as an opportunity for deepening alignment with Iran and promoting Russia’s great power status. Although winning the next Iranian presidential election by hardliners will create an additional capacity to further contribute to Russo-Iranian relations, some complexities require a nuanced approach from both sides.

In his pre-election interviews, president-elect Joe Biden called Russia the “biggest threat” to the United States. No further details have been released about what that exactly means and what policy and goals his foreign policy and national security teams will pursue regarding Russia. Nonetheless, any possible “containment” policy against Russia by Washington will probably not exclude addressing Russian presence and policies in the regions like the Middle East or, for example, Eastern Europe. Such an approach will inevitably affect Russia’s bilateral ties with its allies and partners, including Iran. It may compel Moscow to devise new routes to achieve its regional and international interests and purposes.

Recent remarks by Russian officials caused speculation that Moscow has a calculated plan towards Iran, suggesting Moscow wants more proximity and maybe more intertwined relations with Tehran in the Biden era. Russia hopes Iran will not ignore its endeavours during Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign and not engage with the U.S. to the detriment of its partnership with Russia. Moscow claims if Russian past steps in favour of Iran turn into money, “it will be billions and billions of dollars” which “Tehran knows very well.” The estimation seems sensible from the Kremlin perspective because Russia perceives itself as a saviour of the JCPOA via diplomatic influence in Tehran, a covert contributor to Iran to endure the sanctions, booster of the country’s air-defence and reconnaissance radar capabilities, and opener of new regional markets for Iran.

On the other side, some different voices are heard from Iran, which to some extent can be worrisome for Russia. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), recently maintained that Iran is the “buckle” of the “belt which the West has thrown around Russia” and President Biden wants to “compromise with Iran somehow to boost pressure on Russia.” He concluded that Iran is a “great and independent neighbour to Russia,” which now could benefit a new “historical opportunity” in the “US, China and Russia triangle.” Salehi’s opportunistic notion is not a dominant view in Tehran. In other words, Washington’s new “containment” policy against Moscow wouldn’t necessarily mean sole and unique opportunities for Tehran. Iran itself will face an entanglement with the Biden administration on its non-nuclear dossiers, which could even contain common ground for Russia and Iran to deepen their relations and use untapped potentials under certain strategic conditions. As stated, Russia is trying to set the stage to provide such conditions, but how?

Russia Sees the JCPOA as Its Key Play Ticket in Iran’s Dealing With the U.S.

Last year, when Iran decided to diminish its commitments under the JCPOA in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the deal, Vladimir Putin decried Tehran’s decision. He affirmed, “Russia is not a firefighting rescue crew… to save things that are not fully under our control.” His statements were covered in the Iranian media and raised historical doubts against Russian policy.

Reportedly, Russia has revised its role and now acts like a tireless “firefighter” to prohibit Iran from “emotional” actions such as “ending the application of Additional Protocol” or taking any other reckless nuclear steps. Moscow also proposed some diplomatic meetings, which were rejected by the US and Iran. Furthermore, Russia presented Collective Security in the Persian Gulf initiative to prevent any regional conflict.

Beyond the diplomatic endeavour, Moscow still advocates the U.S. rejoining to the JCPOA and lifting Iran’s sanctions. This is the same announced policy or at least initial steps that president-elect Joe Biden wants to take toward Iran. Although at first glance Tehran as a close partner of Moscow will take a fresh breath, and Russia may seem envious of that. Still, any new engagement between Iran and the U.S. on the JCPOA will reach Russia to the two major goals: asserting Russian great power status through emphasizing on its previous diplomatic efforts in the multilateral framework and proving to Iran that Moscow doesn’t consider illegal U.S. sanctions against Iran as an opportunity or play card.

Therefore, the Islamic Republic’s compromising with the West on issues like missiles program and regional influence, in a framework other than multilateralism, can be a significant concern for Kremlin. Unlike Iran’s nuclear program, which was a global problem, and Russia had leverage in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the Islamic Republic’s regional activities and missiles program are more of a concern to the U.S. and its regional allies.

Meanwhile, Iran and Russia seemingly have different views on the aftermath of the JCPOA and Iran’s non-nuclear dossiers. Tehran rejects any new nuclear and non-nuclear negotiations absolutely; Whereas Moscow bears a macro plan in mind. Russia believes the “normalization” of the JCPOA doesn’t require addressing Iran’s “missile program and regional behaviour” and as the latter two “have a chance to be settled only in the broader regional context,” it’s not needed to be “mix up” with “nuclear dossier.” In other words, Russia interprets these issues as negotiable under certain conditions and accepts Western demands, even implicitly.

Regardless of how many years its renegotiation and improvement would require, it seems that Russia views a well-functioning JCPOA as a necessary ticket to attend in Iran’s presumptive future non-nuclear negotiations with U.S. and European powers. But the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insists upon preserving Iran’s regional presence and missile power and rejects any pullback. This is an area of disagreement between Tehran and Moscow. Iran pursues lifting the sanctions and the U.S. returning to the JCPOA without any preconditions and other demands or adjustments based on new developments. Tehran is not enthusiastic about reviving the JCPOA in its original form and is preparing itself for more nuclear escalation.

Therefore, although the JCPOA provides Russia with ample space and opportunity to exhibit its diplomatic status against the U.S., it wouldn’t be an easy task for it to play a constructive role in the nuclear deal in a way that Iran is satisfied with. There has not yet leaked any indication of exchanging views from Russo-Iranian diplomatic collaborations on how Tehran and Moscow intend to address the issue and how they want to bring their views closer together.

Shifting Russian Rhetoric in Favor of Iran Against Israel

Overlooking Israel’s campaign against Iran in Syria has raised critical voices against Russia inside Iran. This compounds societal, historical mistrust between the two countries and amplifies pessimism toward Russia in some Iranian political groups. Though Russia is a great power with enormous capabilities and an undeniable contribution in Syria that couldn’t be ignored or rebuked by Iranian officials, the bilateral dynamics may be affected negatively in the long-term.

Notwithstanding close relations with Israel, Russia adopted a position similar to that of Iran regarding the recent peace deals between Israel and some Arab nations. While underlining its own role in the Middle East peace process, Moscow announced U.S.-brokered peace deals “should not be used as the substitute for the settlement of the Palestinian issue.” In another important case for Iran, the Russian ambassador in Tel Aviv strongly criticized Israel’s regional behaviour, which was signalling Iran’s defensive stance in the region. Anatoly Viktorov told the Israeli newspaper that the problem of the region “is not Iranian activities” and it is Israel who “destabilizes the Middle East” through “attacking Hezbollah.” “Israel must not attack the territories of sovereign UN members,” he added.

Viktorov’s remarks come from a strategic view and prudence. From the Russian point of view, limitless supporting of Tel Aviv’s military-diplomatic campaign in the current situation of the region can be counterproductive and lead to the marginalization of Russia’s influence and footprint in the Middle East political peace process. Additionally, as the growing normalization process continues in parallel with intensifying Israelis aggressive military campaign against Iranian targets in the region, the Russian critical voice against Israel could, at least, prevent more escalation between Tehran and Tel Aviv. Obviously, more escalation provides Iran with more evidence to justify its missile program and regional activities as necessary defensive tools against the “enemy.” This, in turn, would encourage Iran to stay away from the negotiation table as much as possible.

Moscow knows that the furthering of normal relations between Arab countries and Israel will also result in more political isolation of Iran in the Middle East and make Tehran more enthusiastic about increasing Russian involvement in the region. Hence, rebalancing some aspects of the new environment of the region in favour of the Islamic Republic as a “strategic partner” would echo broadly in the Iranian hardliner political circles and stimulate them to give Russia a bigger economic and military footprint in Iran.

Russia and the Coming Hardliner President of Iran

Critics accuse Rouhani’s government of waiting for negotiations with the U.S. new administration and not paying enough attention to Eastern powers like Russia and China. One of the conservative Iranian MPs stated, “China does not has enough confidence in Rouhani’s government and is waiting for the next government of Iran so that may be able to reach an agreement with the hardliners at the time.” Kayhan newspaper, close to Supreme Leader of Iran also wrote “negotiations [with the United States and Europe] make non-U.S. and non-European ways unsafe for us… because it confuses countries like China, Russia and India… and they doubt our sincerity in… turning to Eastern policy.” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stressed his record and called Iran’s relations with Russia “unprecedented in history” and claimed it was only in the Rouhani’s administration that “China accepted its relations with Iran to be strategic.” “My thirty visits to Russia are more than all of my foreign trips,” he said.

Discrediting Rouhani’s efforts to rehabilitate the JCPOA and lift sanctions through compromise with Biden’s administration does not mean hardliners rule out negotiations entirely. With a conservative in the horizon as Iran’s next president, hardliners will complete their power monolith. As the most devoted to the Islamic Republic’s core values and achievements, negotiations on non-nuclear issues with the United States will probably be on their agenda. Yet, due to changes in Iran’s periphery security environment, such as the dire hostility of Saudi Arabia and Israel toward Tehran and Arab-Israeli normalization, they would face a difficult balancing act between demands of the U.S. and its regional allies, keeping critical national security guarantees against regional foes, and bounding to mottos and ideals.

A hardliner figure close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) taking power will lighten the image of the binary governance in Iran and bring the Supreme Leader and Presidency close together. This could give eager Russia more assurance to regard the new president as “authorized” and the desirable representative of the system (Nezam). Unlike Zarif’s close collaboration with Russia, for example, Moscow hasn’t hastened to get his signature on the revised version of the Russia-Iran 2001 treaty, which includes cooperation principles on a wide variety of fields.

However, critics will seek more progressive contributions to their “resistance” discourse by Russia. As the U.S. and Europe move beyond the JCPOA and address the Islamic Republic’s missile program and regional activities, resorting to Russian diplomatic weight to counter the Western campaign will be an available option for Tehran. From Iran’s perspective, Israel’s extending regional diplomatic campaign could quickly turn into a defensive alliance with Arabs or even a military threat against Tehran. Therefore, the next government in Iran under a hardline president would expect Moscow to bolster Tehran’s deterrence power by providing it with strategic arms, such as jet fighters and advanced air defence systems, including the S-400, and push back Israel to the country’s southern borders.

Additionally, as Iran prepares itself for oil production with full capacity to retake its market share in the post-sanctions era, it will pursue Moscow’s practical steps. Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh, as an influential energy figure in Iran, met with Russian energy officials in Moscow on December 20. He described the energy cooperation of the two countries as “expanding day by day” which is to “neutralize the consequences of sanctions.” Zanganeh assured Moscow implicitly that Iran-Russia partnership will not change under a new situation and “ups and downs in the international arena.” Without giving any specific details, he showed a green light to Russian energy companies to “operate” and “invest” in Iran.

Economically, Russia isn’t as capable as others such as China, yet it is interested in benefitting from Iran’s new market and infrastructure projects, as well as getting its fair share of Tehran’s Eastern strategy. Nevertheless, the Russians take the punitive U.S. sanctions seriously and see them as a significant impediment to Iran’s path. Lifting part of Iran’s sanctions by the Biden administration, including the arms embargo, would pave the way and raise Tehran’s expectations.

The Bottom Line

The rise of a new convergence of the needs between Tehran and Moscow doesn’t necessarily imply determination from both sides to usher in a new phase of coordination at the regional and bilateral levels against the U.S. The possibilities are different from practical decisions. Despite some exaggerated views in Iran on Russo-Iranian relations, Russia always has a balanced foreign policy approach and avoided relations with Iran bearing any extra cost and affecting relations with the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.

Based on this perspective, adhering to Iran’s unlimited nuclear escalation, missile program, and regional activities could be very costly to Moscow. Even facing the new, aggressive U.S. campaign, Russia will view Iran through the great power competition framework. Drivers such as new sanctions or other diplomatic measures aimed at isolating Russia in the Middle East and curtailing its influence will not be profound enough to provoke Moscow to reconsider engagement with Tehran.

Iran needs to understand Russian regional and global constraints. Russian power and influence is limited and can only impact some mild changes and rebalances. If Tehran reaches an ultimate escalation with the U.S. and maintains its current position, anticipating significant Russian contributions will be unproductive and in vain.

From our partner RIAC

PhD candidate in the Faculty of Law and Political Science at University of Tehran and MA in International Relations from Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, Iran

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Turkey’s Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Artsakh

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The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church has recently hosted a conference on international religious freedom and peace with the blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

Tasoula Hadjitofi, the founding president of the Walk of Truth, was one of the invited guests. She spoke about genocide and her own experience in Cyprus, warning of Turkey’s religious freedom violations. Hadjitofi also called for joint legal actions against continued ethnic cleansing and destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and other places by the Turkish government and its regional allies including Azerbaijan.

During the two-day conference, access to places of worship in war and conflict zones, the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and preservation of cultural heritage were among the topics addressed by many distinguished speakers.  The conference paid particular attention to the situation of historic Armenian monasteries, churches, monuments, and archeological sites in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been under Azeri occupation since the 2020 violent war unleashed by Azerbaijan.

Hadjitofi presented about the situation of Cyprus, sharing her recent visit to the Cypriot city of Famagusta (Varoshia), making historic parallels between the de-Christianisation of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey, and its allies such as Azerbaijan. See Hadjitofi’s full speech here.

Author of the book, The Icon Hunter, Hadjitofi spoke with passion about her recent visit to the ghost city of Famagusta, occupied by Turkey since 1974. Her visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the occupation. She was accompanied by journalist Tim Neshintov of Spiegel and photographer Julien Busch as she made several attempts to visit her home and pray at her church of Timios Stavrou (Holy Cross).

Hadjitofi explained how her own human rights and religious freedoms, alongside the rights of tens of thousands of Cypriots, were violated when Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan illegally entered her country and prayed at the newly erected mosque in her own occupied town whereas she was kneeling down in the street to pray to her icon in front of her violated Christian church. In comparison, her church was looted, mistreated and vandalized by the occupying forces.  

Hadjitofi reminded the audience of the historic facts concerning Turks discriminating against Christian Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians. They also massacred these communities or expelled them from the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey, a process of widespread persecution which culminated in the 1913-23 Christian genocide. Hadjitofi then linked those genocidal actions with what Erdogan is doing today to the Kurds in Syria, and the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting Turkey’s wealthy friends such as the government of Azerbaijan.  She also noted that during her recent visit to her hometown of Famagusta, a delegation from Azerbaijan referred to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as “Turkish land” and a “part of Greater Turkey”. This is yet another sign of Turkish-Azeri historic revisionism, and their relentless efforts for the Turkification of non-Turkish geography.

Hadjitofi called for a series of legal actions against Turkey and its allies, reminding Armenians that although they signed the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC), they have not ratified it. She noted that it must be the priority of Armenians if they want to seek justice. Azerbaijan and Turkey, however, neither signed or ratified the Rome Statute.

During her speech Hadjitofi also emphasized the need for unity amongst all Christians and other faiths against any evil or criminal act of destroying places of worship or evidence of their historical existence anywhere in the world. 

In line with this call, the Republic of Armenia instituted proceedings against the Republic of Azerbaijan before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

In its application, Armenia stated that “[f]or decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination” and that, “[a]s a result of this State-sponsored policy of Armenian hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse”.

Hadjitofi said that “Armenia’s lawsuit against the government of Azerbaijan is a positive move in the right direction and more legal actions should be taken against governments that systematically violate human rights and cultural heritage. I’m also in the process of meeting members of the Armenian diaspora in Athens, London, and Nicosia to discuss further joint legal actions. But the most urgent action that Armenia should take is the ratification of Rome Statute of the ICC,” she added.

Other speakers at the conference included representatives of the main Christian denominations, renowned scholars and experts from around the globe, all of whom discussed issues related to international religious freedom and the preservation of the world’s spiritual, cultural and historical heritage.

Baroness Cox, a Member of the UK House of Lords and a prominent human rights advocate, was among the participants. She has actively defended the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through her parliamentary, charity and advocacy work.

Meanwhile, the organizing committee of the conference adopted a joint communiqué, saying, in part:

” We re-affirm the principles of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international and regional human rights treaties. We claim this right, equally, for all people, of any faith or none, and regardless of nation, history or political circumstances – including for those Armenian prisoners of war still illegally held in captivity by Azerbaijan, for whose swift release and repatriation we appeal and pray, and for the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh whose rights to free and peaceful assembly and association necessarily implicate the sacred character of human life.”

On September 11, the delegates of the conference were received by the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, in his palace in Yerevan where they were thanked. The guests also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial-Museum (Tsitsernakaberd), where Hadjitofi was interviewed on Armenian national TV. She said:

“I read about the Armenian Genocide and I am glad that more countries recognize it as such but I am disappointed that politicians do not condemn actions of Turkey and its allies in their anti Christian attitude towards Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. I see an interconnection between the genocide and the adopted politics of Azerbaijan, when the ethnic cleansing takes place, when cultural heritage is destroyed, gradually the traces of the people once living there are eliminated and that is genocide”. 

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After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

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The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.

The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.

“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.

“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”

Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. 

Blockades and bombardment

The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.

“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.

In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.

Living in fear

In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.

At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.

Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.

Division remains

The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”

Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants

The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.

“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”

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IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi at a press conference. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calmaa

A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?


The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.

Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.

When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.

Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible.  Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.

Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.

The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.

It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.

“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.

I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.

Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.

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