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The crux of Biden’s foreign policy: JCPOA or East Asia?

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photo: Tehran Times

Since President Joe Biden was inaugurated on January 20, returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal has been quite controversial in various terms. The barriers for Biden’s administration to revive the JCPOA have been discussed extensively.

In fact, there exist ingrained obstacles to reviving the JCPOA by the U.S. in terms of lifting sanctions. These deeply rooted barriers are sanctions that are tied to the issue of terrorism as a policy that Ronald Reagan’s administration embarked on. It identifies Iran as a terrorist hub under American law.  Anticipating Biden’s likely intention to reenter the JCPOA and offering some sanctions relief to Iran, this policy was intensified by Trump’s team in a bid to make it difficult for Joe Biden to lift Iran sanctions.

Undoubtedly, the Biden administration is fully aware of the complicated structure of U.S. multidimensional sanctions against Tehran during the last four decades. Also, nearly all top U.S. think tanks have explicitly and implicitly recommended the White House not to reenter the deal. Those right-leaning neoconservative think tanks overtly warn the Oval Office against rejoining the deal, keep all sanctions in place and follow the exact footprints of Trump’s administration towards Iran.

 On the other hand, some think tanks, which are categorized as liberal, highlight several political and technical obstacles and describe the likely process too demanding to be realistic.

Recent publications by Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and the Atlantic Council on the issue are worth mentioning. In fact, the Donald Trump administration sanctioned numerous major Iranian economic entities such as the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) under the label of “terrorism” to consolidate these kinds of sanctions as the centerpiece of the administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran.

In this regard, Kenneth Katzman, an Iran expert at the Congressional Research Service and another fellow at the Quincy Institute, have commented on “terrorism sanctions on Iran and the path forward” anddismantling the ‘sanctions wall’ myth”, respectively.

“Analyzing terrorism sanctions on Iran and the path forward”

In an analysis published on Feb 11, 2021, by the Atlantic Council, Katzman, a top researcher for the U.S. Congress who regularly writes reports titled “Iran sanctions”, stresses that one of the most challenging barriers which the Biden administration faces in terms of his stated intention to return to  the JCPOA is “how to ‘de-list’ from U.S. sanctions not only those Iranian and Iran-related economic entities de-listed in 2016—when the JCPOA went into effect—but also economic entities sanctioned by the Trump administration – even if the economic entities have been designated as terrorist.”

The author, who accuses Iran of supporting terrorist groups in the region and conducting a nuclear weapon program and describes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group, not to mention “malign activities” of Tehran, argues that if the Biden administration revokes terrorism designations of Iranian economic entities, the Oval office’s commitment to counter “terrorism” will be questioned.

It is worth mentioning that Katzman’s recommendations are in accordance with John Kerry’s claims in early 2016. In an interview with CNBC in Davos on January 21, 2016, he claimed that some of the money Iran received in sanctions relief would go to groups considered terrorists and said: “I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists.”

Katzman analyses the JCPOA through the lens of the measures that the U.S. has implemented against Iran under the label of “counter-terrorism” and emphasizes that one of the main pillars of U.S. approach towards West Asia is deterring Iran effectively in terms of gaining regional influence. Thus, he stresses that if Biden considers lifting terrorism sanctions against the long list of Iranian economic entities as a necessary step for reviving the JCPOA, this will undermine U.S. policies that could roll back Iran’s influence in the region.

In this context, the Quincy Institute has commented on the issue, too. 

A myth to reconsider: Dismantling “sanctions wall”

Underlining the debate, the Quincy Institute on February 12, 2020, speculated on how Iranian and American parties can come back into compliance with the deal and what barriers stand in the path forward. To describe the obstacles Biden faces, the article points to the “sanctions wall” that architects of the Trump administration’s Iran policy designed to target those Iranian entities with terrorism designations. In fact, those entities were the subject to nuclear-related sanctions relief under the Obama administration but as the previous administration declared: “this double layer could create a ‘sanctions wall of political and market deterrence’ to undermine a future administration’s ability to ease or lift sanctions.”

The institute also mentions that supporters of the “sanctions wall” at the U.S. Congress did not miss the opportunity to question Anthony Blinken’s assessment of “terrorism sanctions” on Iran’s financial and oil sectors. Senator Ted Cruz, a vocal opponent of the JCPOA, challenged Biden’s pick for the Department of State at a Senate confirmation hearing and asked if he “believe[s] it is in America’s national security interests to lift those terrorism sanctions and to allow billions of dollars to go once again to funding terrorist activities?”

Similarly, Jim Inhofe, a senior Republican senator who advocates “maximum pressure” campaign, detailed in an op-ed for Foreign Policy how he and his partners in Congress intend to make it difficult for Biden to reenter the JCPOA.

In fact, as Biden himself said, he will not lift “non-nuclear” sanctions, a move consistent with what the architects of Trump’s “sanction wall” support.

Biden’s critical priority: JCPOA or East Asia?

Although Iran definitely remains one of the main issues on Biden’s foreign policy agenda, perhaps the Americans do not perceive Iran’s nuclear issue as the priority to be addressed urgently at the Oval Office. In fact, it seems a somehow similar strategy is already arranged in terms of how to deal with Iran, and maybe nothing fundamentally new will come up.

Apparently, articulating a new American strategy towards East Asia, particularly China, would be the most difficult challenge facing the Biden administration in laying out U.S. foreign policy goals in the foreseeable future.

Reviewing major and long policy papers and reports on East Asia and the related security, economic and political interests of the U.S. in this geostrategic region can further reinforce the concept that China, not Iran, would be placed high on the Biden administration’s foreign policy.

For instance, the Atlantic Council has published issue briefs and strategy papers in which detailed road maps towards East Asian countries including Pakistan, India, and mostly China are put forward for Biden’s administration.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Americas

Who won the interaction with the “free press” at the Geneva Summit?

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Before the much anticipated Geneva Summit, it became clear that President Biden would not be holding a joint press conference with President Putin because Biden wanted to go speak to the “free press” after the meeting. This was Biden’s way to show Putin, to rub it into Putin’s face that in Russia the media is not free.

Then the day of the meeting came and it turned out that Biden had a list of pre-approved reporters “as usual” whose names only he had to call. And Biden told everyone to the dismay of not only Republicans but pretty much anyone, including the free press.

Then Biden had a hard time answering questions even from that list. When CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked him a regular question along the lines of “why do you think this would work?”, Biden lost it and suggested that Collins did not belong in the journalistic profession.

Collin’s question was a softball question, in fact. It was not even a tough question according to international standards. It was a critical question from an American mainstream media point of view, assuming Biden as the good guy who just can’t do enough to stop the bad guy Putin.

It was not even a tough question and Biden still couldn’t handle it by mustering something diplomatic and intelligent that makes him look like he was in control. Biden is no Obama. We knew that already but he should be able to at least respond to a regular question with a regular answer.

If you think American mainstream media were mistreated at the Geneva Summit, you should have seen how the rest of the international and local media were treated at another venue, at the request of the American government. I already described what happened at the point where the Biden and Putin convoys were going to pass. You should have seen how we were treated, at the request of the US authorities, and how the Swiss authorities really played by the US’s drum. Later on, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s State of the Union that Biden gave Swiss companies exemptions from sanctions imposed on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Biden refused a joint press conference with Putin because he wanted to rub the “free press” in Putin’s face. Well, Biden surely showed him. It was the other way around, in fact. Biden didn’t take questions from the other side. Putin took highly critical questions from American journalists and he did it like it was business as usual. Putin didn’t have a list of blocked or preapproved journalists from the other side, or people he dismissed on the spot. Russian journalists were in fact denied access to the venue, in front of Parc la Grange.

Supporters of Black Lives Matter like me naturally didn’t like the substance of Putin’s answers. President Putin attacked Black Lives Matter, even though ever since the Soviet times the treatment of black people has always been a highlight of Russian criticism of American society and values. It seems like President Putin doesn’t want a big, sweeping movement that would reform everything, so that the issues can persist and so that Putin can keep hammering on the same point over and over again. If one is truly concerned about rights and well-being, one has to be in support of the social justice movement trying to address the problems.

In fact, Putin’s approach to black people’s rights is a lot like the FBI’s view of the radical, violent far left: the FBI do not wish to address the violent elements which probably represent 5% of the whole movement, just so that the FBI can keep the issues alive and discredit the whole movement. One saw that the Capitol riots groups really calmed down as soon as the FBI stepped in but FBI director Chris Wray is not interested in doing the same with the violent radical left, precisely so that the issues can persist and the FBI can keep pointing to violent “Black identity” extremists. It is the FBI’ style to keep little nests of fire here and there, so that they can exploit or redirect them in their own preferred direction from time to time. Let’s not forget that the leader of the Proud Boys was actually an FBI informant for a long time, probably taking instructions from the FBI.

At the Geneva Summit, Putin also stated that he saw nothing criminal in the Capitol riots on 6 January that undermined democratic principles and institutions. That was an example of someone trying to use and support existing forces within American society in order to undermine it.

But the substance of Putin’s answers had nothing to do with the process of interacting with the “free press”. Putin took questions from everyone, Biden didn’t. Putin didn’t screen out or dismiss journalists from the other side, Biden did. Putin didn’t lash out on anyone suggesting that they should not be in that job. Biden did and he did it even to his own pre-approved list of media that he was supposed to like.

In terms of process, Putin passed the test and Biden couldn’t handle interacting with the free press even in very restricted, sanitized conditions. Despite what you think of each leader and their policies, it has to be said that Putin handled interacting with the media as business as usual, and Biden struggled in his interaction with the media. Even when Biden was reading from a teleprompter, even with a preapproved list of journalists and even when he was not in the same room as Putin, Biden still made mistakes and couldn’t handle it. Even when everything was chewed for him, Biden still couldn’t do it.

In fact, Biden looked more like an overwhelmed Kardashian abroad who had to have his hand held at any moment and less like the leader of the free world. First lady Jill Biden in fact did hold Biden’s hand on occasion and rushed him out of places like a child when the President seemed to wonder off in the wrong direction, such as at the G7 Summit in Cornwall. And that guy has the nuclear codes?

There have been concerns with Biden’s cognitive abilities. President Biden confused President Putin with President Trump, while reading from a teleprompter. What was remarkable is that Putin stated that he found Biden to be actually knowledgeable and prepared on the issues, and that Biden is actually not in a mental and cognitive decline contrary to mainstream understanding. While on the face of it, the statement sounded 100% positive and in defense of Biden, this was a very aggressive, veiled jab of the sort “many are saying that but I don’t think that”. Putin raised the doubt, gave Biden an evaluation and proved to be a total player.

In total, the bottom line of who won the interaction with the “free press” at the Geneva Summit was clear: Russia 1, the US 0.

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Americas

Joe Biden’s European vacations

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joseph Biden, better known as Joe Biden, is an American politician from the Democratic Party who won last year’s presidential elections amid scandals and accusations of fraud. In his autobiography, Biden describes himself as a leading figure in determining US policy in the Balkans, and openly admits having convinced President Bill Clinton to intervene militarily in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and becoming the main architect of NATO enlargement.

Here are just a few facts from his past that can shed light on the possible  line of actions that could be taken by America’s current President.

Biden is certainly no stranger to Balkan issues. In 1999, he played an important role in the administration of President Bill Clinton, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia without a UN resolution, an act of aggression that resulted in Kosovo being proclaimed an independent state and which is now home to the largest US military base in Europe – Camp Bondsteel.  In 1999, the current US president was one of the most outspoken supporters of the bombing of Yugoslavia, which is something he took pride in.

“I propose to bomb Belgrade. I propose to send American pilots and blow up all the bridges over the Drina River,” said Biden, then a US Senator.

On September 1, 1999, Senator Joseph Biden visited Bulgaria as a representative of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, meeting with President Peter Stoyanov, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova and local lawmakers. Biden has become a key figure in Bulgaria’s integration into the North Atlantic Alliance.

Today, after several years of lull, tensions in Ukraine are shooting up again.  At the close of 2013, a series of riots were provoked there eventually leading up to the 2014 coup and the subsequent conflict in the country’s eastern regions. During the armed confrontation, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics were established, which to this day remain at loggerheads with Kiev. After a region-wide referendum, over 95 percent of the residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea announced their desire to reunite with Russia. The role of Washington in the violent overthrow of power in Ukraine was clearly visible. US officials openly supported the Maidan, and Senator John McCain met with future government officials. Victoria Nuland, then US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, publicly stated that Washington had allocated $5 billion to support democracy in Ukraine. She personally distributed food to “peaceful demonstrators”, many of whom later ended up on the Maidan with weapons in their hands. Nuland, who served as Assistant Secretary of State to three presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, retired in 2017. Today, Biden is bringing her back into politics, nominating her to the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs – the third most important in the State Department.

Biden visited Ukraine five times during and after the Maidan. The United States, along with Germany, Poland and France, forced the country’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych to make concessions to protesters, which quickly led to the government’s collapse. Immediately after the resignation of Yanukovych in February 2014, President Barack Obama appointed Biden as his official representative in Ukraine. A little later, Biden’s son, Hunter, was appointed to the board of directors of Ukraine’s Burisma gas company.

After the coup, the Americans took deep roots in Ukraine with their representatives appearing both in economic structures and in the government and special services. Years later, details of their work became available to the media. Former US President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said that he had managed to find witnesses and obtain documents demonstrating attempts to cover up violations of the law by Burisma and Hunter Biden’s involvement in the laundering of millions of dollars. Giuliani unveiled a scheme how $16 million, including $3 million “earned” by Biden Jr., had been withdrawn through a network of companies, a number of which were located in Cyprus. Other investigations initiated by the media have also revealed large flows of “dirty” money that was flowing from Ukraine through Latvia to Cyprus and other offshore companies such as Rosemont Seneca, founded by Hunter Biden and Devon Archer.

In April 2019, journalist John Solomon published a post in the American edition of Dakhil about how Joe Biden was helping his son in his business dealings after leaving the post of vice president and bragging to foreign policy experts that, as vice president, he had forced the dismissal of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor. Biden related how in March 2016 he threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that Washington would withdraw its $ 1 billion loan guarantees and drive the country into bankruptcy unless Attorney General Viktor Shokin was dismissed immediately. And dismissed Shokin was, accused of not being active enough in fighting corruption. However, when talking about his victory, Biden misses an important point. Prior to his dismissal, the attorney general had launched a large-scale audit of the Burisma mining company where Hunter Biden was working. According to the US banking system, between spring 2014 and autumn 2015, Hunter’s company Rosemont Seneca regularly received transfers from Burisma to the tune of about $166,000.

This whole story gives us an idea of what kind of a person Joe Biden really is  and the question is how he will behave in the future.

Even before Biden’s inauguration as president, media representatives and analysts predicted an aggravation of the military situation, an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and an increase in US activity in the Balkans. In the spring of 2021, these predictions were confirmed, and the military rhetoric of the US administration began heat up. In a March 17 interview with ABC TV, Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer.” Even during the Cold War, world leaders did not allow themselves such disrespect for one another. Similar statements from American politicians are often made against foreign leaders whom they want to overthrow or physically eliminate. A number of analysts believe that the absence of an apology from Washington indicates that such a statement was not accidental, but well thought out and comes as a new step in the information war against Russia.

The further development of events in the international arena appears more and more is scary each day. In the media and in public statements by a number of politicians the topic of possible military action is almost becoming “business as usual.” Therefore, the new American president’s personality and his inner circle is extremely important for understanding the future and assessing global risks around the world.

From our partner International Affairs

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Americas

The Private And Public Joe Biden: Belief And Policy

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Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

Joe Biden supports abortion rights politically, a position conflicting with doctrine in the Catholic church.  Despite the pope issuing a warning to act with care, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is now ready to prepare a teaching document that could potentially bar Biden from receiving Holy Communion at mass.  A central sacrament during mass, Catholics believe that eating the consecrated wafer dipped in wine, representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, unites them with their savior fortifying them to face evil temptations.

The USCCB vote to prepare the document was an overwhelming 168-55, and a committee of US bishops has been assigned the task.  Responding to questions, President Biden called it a private matter.  The document is expected to be ready in time for debate at the November bi-annual conference of US Catholic Bishops.

If that is one headache for Biden, another is in the offing.  Perhaps as a consequence of US policy towards Iran, the election of a hard-liner in Iran’s presidential election seems almost certain.  Judge Ebrahim Raisi, who is also Iran’s top judge, is on his way to victory on the basis of the votes counted so far.

The 60-year old cleric spent most of his life as a prosecutor until he was appointed Iran’s top judge in 2019.  He is fiercely loyal to his fellow clerics, particularly to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has the final say in all matters.  All the same, the president does the administration and has significant input in both domestic and foreign policy.  Suffice to say, Raisi lost in a landslide to Hassan Rouhani, who sought accommodation with the West, in the previous election four years ago.

Having played hardball with Iran, the US is repeating itself with a Russia anxious for better relations.  Following the G7 meeting in Cornwall a week ago, President Biden flew to Geneva meeting President Putin at the Villa La Grange for a closely-watched summit.

Relations between the two countries have been tense following a series of events including the Russian annexation of Crimea.  The latter was transferred to Ukraine for administrative convenience when a connecting bridge was being constructed so that both ends of it would fall under the same authority.  The people of Crimea have no other connection with Ukrainians other than they were both part of the Soviet Union. 

Climate change, arms control, cyber security and American interest in jailed dissenters in Russia including Alexei Navalny .  Reading the riot act to Mr. Putin does little to further stability in relations.  Peace is not a problem among like-minded countries with a commonality of interests, it is a challenge when the parties are rivals, nuclear armed, and capable of blowing up the world.  Mr. Biden may be proud of his performance but is he able to accept the challenge, for if not where does it leave the rest of us …

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