Former Vice President Joe Biden’s foreign policy advisor said that a future Biden administration would return to the 2015 deal with Iran if the Iranian government did the same.
Biden, the Democratic nominee for President, has increasingly signaled that he wants to renegotiate the international agreement with Iran. Anthony Blinken, one of Biden’s top advisors, acknowledged twice this week that the United States would have to rejoin the original deal before asking for a new one.
“If Iran comes back into compliance with the deal, then yes, Joe Biden said we would do the same thing, but we would use that as a platform to try to build a stronger and longer deal working with our partners,” he told CBS News during a Wednesday morning interview.
“I think we'd have a decent chance of doing that because our partners would be with us, not alienated from us,” he said. “At the same time, much more likely to join us in trying to curb other actions by Iran that we find objectionable.”
Blinken had said the same at a Monday event hosted by the foreign policy lobby group Democratic Majority For Israel.
The deal had originally put limits on the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. President Donald Trump criticized it as “the worst deal ever negotiated” before implementing a policy of “maximum pressure” on the Iranian economy.
Iran has since retaliated by ramping up its nuclear research beyond the limits of the deal, but the Iranian government and five other world powers still insist that the deal is in place.
Brian Hook, the State Department official in charge of Iranian affairs, claimed last week that “there is not going to be much of [the deal] left to join” by the time Trump leaves office.
“Under its own terms, President Trump’s approach to Iran has been a very, very strong failure,” said Blinken, who helped negotiate the original deal as National Security Advisor to the Vice President, at the Monday event. “But of course, things have happened. Time has passed.”
Jake Sullivan, another high-level Biden advisor, said last week that supporters of the 2015 deal have been proven wrong on a few counts.
He noted that economic sanctions were more “effective in the narrow sense of causing deep economic pain on Iran” than expected.
Biden has called for economic sanctions relief to help Iran deal with the coronavirus pandemic, although not as wide-ranging relief as some other Democrats have supported.
Sullivan said that Biden should “immediately begin the process of negotiating a follow-on agreement” that would “deal with” some of the expiration dates on restrictions on Iran.
The most pressing expiration date is in October 2020, when a United Nation arms embargo on Iran is set to expire.
The Trump administration plans to use a controversial “snapback” mechanism to restore it, but other UN member states have claimed that the United States has no grounds to extend the embargo, as it has already left the 2015 deal.
“We’ll see where that goes, but it seems to be on very, very shaky grounds,” Blinken said on Monday. “In order to use the mechanisms of the agreement, you have to be a participant in the agreement.”
He added during the Wednesday interview that “significant restrictions” remained in place even under the 2015 deal.
“All of that would indeed stay in place,” Blinken said. “It's not a panacea. It doesn't solve every problem by design. It was meant to solve one problem, which was the one that was most acute for us, which was Iran's pursuit of the capacity to build on very short order a nuclear weapon.”
Matthew Petti is a national security reporter at the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @matthew_petti.