By Majid Rafizadeh
A predominant theory on Iran’s stance toward the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear deal, has been anchored in the belief that the Tehran regime is desperate for a revival of the agreement.
This argument is buttressed by the regime’s financial hardships and the significant pressure it faces inside the country. After the former Trump administration began imposing sanctions on the regime following its withdrawal from the deal in 2018, the Iranian leadership faced two major uprisings at home. The regime is now bankrupt, both politically and economically. In addition, Tehran is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain funding for its militias and forces inside and outside the country.
The ruling mullahs are also facing one of the worst budget deficits in the four decades since they seized power. This deficit will increase inflation and devalue the currency even further.
As a result, the revival of the nuclear deal would lift the primary and secondary US sanctions on Iran’s energy, banking and oil sectors. With a return to the agreement, the Tehran regime would also see billions of dollars flow into its treasury, as trade with the EU and Western investment in the country would also increase.
But what if the regime is no longer interested in rejoining? In fact, Iran’s actions and policies suggest that the regime does not want the nuclear deal. During the Rouhani administration and after the Biden administration assumed office, Iranian leaders kept creating hurdles, declining to rejoin the deal and effectively preventing its revival.
From the outset, the Biden administration made it clear to the leadership that the US wants to return to the nuclear deal, and even announced that it would lift all sanctions linked to the agreement that were imposed by the Trump administration.
The regime could have easily returned to full compliance and immediately rejoined the nuclear agreement. But it dragged out the talks for six rounds and Iranian leaders kept demanding additional concessions from the West.
The regime also ratcheted up its nuclear threats and increased its attempts to extort greater concessions from the Biden administration, as it also did with the Obama administration. Iran’s former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif admitted to a forum organized by New York’s Council on Foreign Relations that he did not want the 2015 nuclear deal, but instead wants a new agreement. “A sign of good faith is not to try to renegotiate what has already been negotiated,” he said, adding in the same speech that the US must “compensate us for our losses.” Iran’s top judicial body had already demanded that the US pay $130 billion in “damages.”
Iranian leaders also demanded that the US lift other non-nuclear sanctions leveled by the former US administration over Iran’s human rights violations or terrorist activities. The Biden administration agreed to lift many curbs, including some that were not linked to the nuclear program, but Tehran wanted more. Top Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi acknowledged: “The information transferred to us from the US side is that they are also serious on returning to the nuclear deal and they have so far declared their readiness to lift a great part of their sanctions.
But this is not adequate from our point of view and, therefore, the discussions will continue until we get all our demands.”
Then the Iranian regime put the nuclear talks on hold, saying that the Security Council’s P5+1 should wait for the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to take office. If Iran really wanted to rejoin the nuclear deal, it would have done so under the Rouhani administration because the final decision-maker in such matters is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, not the president or the foreign minister.
Meanwhile, Iran kept violating the nuclear deal and made further advances in its nuclear program during the talks. Now it is enriching uranium to 60 percent purity. It has also begun the process of producing enriched uranium metal. The Iranian parliament also passed a law requiring the government to expel International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear inspectors.
So, if the Iranian regime really wants to rejoin the nuclear deal, why is it refusing to cooperate with the IAEA or answer the agency’s questions concerning three undeclared nuclear sites? Also, if Tehran really wanted to revive the nuclear deal, it would not have insisted on holding indirect talks with the US? From 2013-2015, Iran held direct talks with the Obama administration.
Iran’s actions indicate that the regime is not interested in rejoining the nuclear agreement.