Israel Claims Biden Still Wants Iran Nuclear Deal, but U.S. Claims Deal ‘Not on the Agenda’

Officials in Israel worry that the United States’ shift away from pursuing an Iran nuclear deal might prove to be temporary with the deal remaining the key focus of the Biden administration, despite officials’ comments to the contrary from officials in the past two weeks, according to a recent report in the media. 

“Unless the Biden administration works with its partners to trigger ‘snapback’ at the U.N. Security Council, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehension Plan of Action) will sadly always be on the table,” said senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), Behnam Ben Taleblu. 

“Right now, the reason for no deal has more to do with politics and demands in Tehran than grandstanding from Washington,” said Taleblu. “Let’s hope what the administration is signaling between the lines about the deal remains true the moment (Iranian leader Ali) Khamenei picks up the phone. It’s high time the administration see the linkage between the nuclear, regional domestic and other challenges and formally pull the plug on an accord that would enrich Iran’s apparatus of domestic suppression and foreign aggression. Anything less than that is just talk.”

A video surfaced online last week that appeared to show President Joe Biden saying the deal “is dead, but we’re not going to announce it.”

An Israeli official who participated in closed discussions about Iran told Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, that the government understood that despite the president’s comments, the impression is still that a significant change in the nuclear deal is coming in a few months. However, U.S. officials think otherwise. 

“The Iranians killed the opportunity for a swift return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA in September when they turned their backs on a deal that was on the table, approved by all,” said a U.S. State Department spokesperson. “The JCPOA has not been on the agenda for months. It’s not our focus.”

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — known as the Iran nuclear deal — is a key point to the foreign policy of the Biden administration for months.  The administration’s effort to revive the deal has proven divisive in the U.S., and several countries in the Middle East, including Israel, strongly oppose a deal of that kind. 

Secretary of State Blinken says Iran engaging in “destabilizing activities”

On December 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Iran “is engaging in destabilizing activities, dangerous activities,” destabilizing actions throughout the region by supporting terrorist groups. 

“When the JCPOA … was actually enforced, it did exactly what it was designed to do,” said Blinken. “It put Iran’s nuclear program in a box. It was verified not only by international inspectors, it was verified by our own people, Iran’s compliance with that, including by the previous administration.” 

Blinken continued, “In our judgment, it was a grievous mistake to pull out of that agreement and to let Iran’s nuclear program out of the box, but that’s the reality that we inherited and that we’ve had to deal with,” added Blinken, stressing the administration’s goal is clear and ensures Iran doesn’t obtain a nuclear weapon.

The change in posture relates to the protests across Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was in the custody of the country’s morality police. The administration reportedly determined that Iran couldn’t put down the protests without dramatically improving its economic situation, making the nuclear deal more appealing. 

Outgoing Prime Minister of Israel, Yair Lapid estimated that the nuclear deal would provide Iran with $100 billion per year, which Iran would use to “undermine stability in the Middle East and spread terror around the globe,” reported Reuters. 

The National Security Council and the U.S. State Department stress that the protests made it clear that any Iran nuclear deal would prove unacceptable, as they continue to emphasize the need to find diplomatic means to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Since September, our focus has been on standing up for the fundamental freedoms of the Iranian people and countering Iran’s deepening military partnership with Russia and its support to Russia’s war in Ukraine,” said a spokesperson for the State Department.

The spokesperson continued,” While the JCPOA has not been on our agenda for months, what is very much alive is President Biden’s absolute commitment to never allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. We believe diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal, but President Biden has also been clear that we have not removed any option from the table, and that a military option remains as a last resort.”

A spokesperson with the National Security Council (NSC) said that the administration will “continue to confront Iran’s behavior in the region, protect our troops … and support the brave Iranian people demanding their basic rights and dignity — which the regime has long denied them.”

“We don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon,” said the NSC spokesperson. “Iran is killing its young people and selling UAVs to Russia to kill Ukrainians. Our focus is on practical ways to confront them in these areas. We will continue taking action to impose costs on those who commit violence against peaceful protestors or otherwise try to suppress their rights,” added the spokesperson. “Our diplomatic efforts under the Biden administration have also made space for other countries to join in our condemnation of Iran’s bad behavior.”