The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear physics specialist who has been widely believed to be the chief architect of Iran's nuclear program since the 1979 revolution, predictably clouded the mood of policymakers in Tehran. The hardliner-dominated parliament is already pushing through a proposal for a "strategic action" that could force President Hassan Rouhani's diplomatic administration to significantly reduce Iran's obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan – and essentially kill.
The draft law, the general provisions of which were approved by a 251 majority on Tuesday before a possible final adoption in the future, provides, among other things, that the government will stop the voluntary implementation of the additional protocol by Iran and produce at least 120 kilograms of 20 pieces. Percent enriched uranium per year and construction of a new heavy water reactor. The State Department was quick to label it "neither necessary nor useful", which "will not help lift sanctions". Other hardline groups have urged the government to expel inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, accusing them of espionage and complicity in the killing. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has also called for "definitive punishment" for those behind the November 27 attack.
But as the chorus of calls for retaliation grows from both the elite and the public, the Iranian leadership appears to be inclined to exercise restraint and maintain the same policy of "strategic patience" it has deliberately pursued over the past year , at least until the US President – Elect Joe Biden on January 20, 2021. Instead of a retaliatory attack or a radical escalation of its nuclear non-compliance, public statements by government officials suggest that negotiations with the United States will be sought.
The assassination of Fakhrizadeh, widely attributed to Israel and believed to have the blessing of the Trump administration, was clearly intended to destroy the prospects for Iranian-American diplomacy on the eve of Biden's inauguration by getting Iran to close the nuclear deal once and for all discard or take radical retaliatory measures that could spark war and adversely affect the United States. "We cannot deal with the problem impulsively, but we will never forget it," said General Esmail Kowsari, chief adviser to the commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said in an interview two days after the attack, adding that the "time that The place and nature of "the Iranian revenge remain to be determined. Interestingly, his warning echoed earlier comments by Rouhani promising retaliatory measures "in due course".
However, if Tehran decides to defy the bait and remain strategically patient until cooler heads prevail in the White House, both sides may still be able to take steps to rescue the nuclear deal and resume negotiations. A number of senior Iranian officials have already begun overtures to the new government of Biden to revive the beleaguered nuclear deal that US President Donald Trump repealed in May 2018 before launching a so-called "maximum pressure" campaign of economic sanctions against Iran in one country sparked an ambitious offer to force it to change its behavior and negotiate a better deal.
There are good arguments in favor of Biden's intention to return to the nuclear deal swiftly and unconditionally – including continually shortening the so-called Iran outbreak time required to make a single atomic bomb from a year under the 2015 deal to just three months at the moment. Such a decision in favor of a freshly shaped, unity-striving government in Washington also comes with considerable political costs. For one thing, if the Senate remains in Republican hands, a Biden administration could be forced to spend sizeable political capital on getting a COVID-19 stimulus package through, and this, as well as other domestic political priorities, could deter them from focusing on the nuclear deal . In addition, US allies – Israel in particular, but also Saudi Arabia – have made it clear that they are ready to go to great lengths to torpedo the deal once and for all. Combined with the intensification of domestic rivalries in Tehran in light of the looming succession to the government, these complications make a clean return to the 2015 agreement ahead of the Iranian presidential election in June 2021 unlikely, even if this is desirable from a conflict prevention perspective.
In a public televised address on November 3, Khamenei highlighted the importance of a possible change in American leadership and reiterated the sensitivity of Tehran's "maximum resistance" policy, which resulted in a contemptuous refusal to negotiate with the United States. "As for the United States, our policies are calculated and clear and change with the arrival and departure of people," he said. "It has no impact on our [US] politics." In another speech later that month, Khamenei reiterated a similar position, strongly suggesting that he had no urgency about sanction relief despite letting the door to Iran-US be. ajar talks, preferably within a multilateral framework, provided Washington first secures Tehran's trust.
In the meantime, Rouhani's government and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have taken very different positions and produced a characteristic series of mixed signals from Iran's ruling elite. In an interview on November 18, Zarif made a pragmatic proposal that would bring the ball to the US court without the need for new negotiations. If the United States, as a member of the United Nations, "fulfills its obligations as such under Security Council Resolution 2231, we will fulfill our obligations under #JCPOA," he tweeted, referring to the unanimous July 2015 UN Security Council meeting Adopted resolution to anchor nuclear agreements in international law. "If the US tries to re-join the JCPOA, we will be ready to negotiate terms to regain its JCPOA participant status," Zarif continued.
With the embattled Rouhani government trying to use a short window of time from January 20 to June 18, the date set for the Iranian presidential elections, Zarif's proposal is primarily aimed at putting both sides through another round of complicated negotiations To spare, which implies that it does, would meet stiff resistance in Iran from powerful hardliners. In an unusually straightforward interview following the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, the Secretary of State voiced his tough rivals' overtures and messages to the next US administration that "moderates will not stay in power" and that Washington "can work better with them". In other words, Khamenei appears to have allowed Rouhani and Zarif to make all sorts of concessions regarding the sanctions easing of the Biden administration while, as he has repeatedly made clear, assuming that American "hostility" towards Iran " regardless of this "remains. and that "we should frustrate them."
Khamenei clearly does not anticipate the possibility of the Biden government making any major concessions as it urgently needs to deal with a worsening COVID-19 crisis domestically, may face a Hawk Senate, and may need time to deal with complex sanctions mechanisms and structures The Trump administration has set up a meaningful riddle. With this in mind, a straightforward and unconditional re-entry of the Biden government into the Iran deal would likely surprise Khamenei and frustrate his tough allies, who are counting on Rouhani to continue not fixing the economy in order to bolster their own political prospects before the Iranian president Elections in June. Having already taken control of the judiciary and the legislature, they seem determined to win the presidency too. This could require the spoilsport game to hamper diplomatic efforts to resume multilateral negotiations until the next Iranian president takes office this summer or so, thinking goes. In particular, Swedish media reported on November 24 that Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish disaster medicine expert who was dubiously accused of nuclear espionage for Israel and sentenced to death, was abruptly put in isolation to await execution. The move came just days before Belgian prosecutors began the trial of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat stationed in Austria who was accused of planning a bomb attack against an opposition group in France.
To allow for a smooth return to the nuclear deal, Europe, especially the UK, France and Germany, can team up with the new Biden government to try to force Khamenei's hand. These three countries could simply revive a key element of French President Emmanuel Macron's 2019 plan by offering an immediate line of credit of $ 10 billion to $ 20 billion to buy Iranian oil on the basis of a U.S. presidential waiver effective Jan. 21 Set up in 2021. in exchange for Iran freezing its ongoing nuclear activities that violate the nuclear deal, including stopping uranium enrichment with advanced centrifuges. With a single step, these European powers can restore some of their lost credibility and leverage in Tehran, build a transatlantic bridge, stabilize the situation and save the new US president the trouble of spending political capital domestically.
The longer-term benefits of such a move – if underpinned by the effective lifting of sanctions in step with the United States re-joining the nuclear deal – could include strengthening the political relevance of moderates in the upcoming Iranian presidential election. This, in turn, could help foster a more balanced political climate for the eventual succession of the country's next leader, or even the formation of a leadership council rather than one-man rule.
It is worth remembering that Khamenei himself has become increasingly skeptical of diplomacy with Washington after facilitating the 2013 nuclear talks with his pragmatic rhetoric of “heroic flexibility,” only to launch an unprecedented economic pressure campaign against his country less than three years later suffer.
Despite its fiery rhetoric, Iranian hardliners do not categorically reject diplomacy with Washington, preferring to self-administer it and enjoy the resulting national authority and international prestige. Unsurprisingly, an influential corps of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps recently called for the relocation of Iran's nuclear files from the moderately dominated Foreign Ministry back to the Supreme National Security Council, which handled it directly from 2003 to 2013 before Rouhani took office.
Regardless of the enormous challenges, it better serves the strategic American and European interests to make better use of the short window of time that begins on January 20 by offering sensible sanctions relief as a confidence-building step and by using the greater flexibility of the Iranian moderates to meet the requirements to create follow-up negotiations that Biden and his team hope for. When the United States and the European powers unite behind the nuclear deal, Tehran cannot help but return from the cold.