geopolitics-00810
Andrew Korybko

“The U.S. wants to weaponize the JCPOA as a means for reducing and eventually outright eliminating Iran’s missile deterrent capabilities, which would, in turn, weaken its defenses and thus make it more vulnerable to conventional attacks from its foes,” Andrew Korybko tells the Tehran Times.

In the long negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States plus Germany), the parties had avoided contentious issues beyond the nuclear realm in the belief that resolving the nuclear issue was the highest international security priority and including other issues could overload the agenda and jeopardize reaching any agreement.

As the Biden administration is formulating its Iran policy, there is an intense debate in Washington over whether a straightforward return to the Iran nuclear deal will be expedient.

Many hawks in the U.S. insist that President Joe Biden must also address Iran’s missile program in addition to the original deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

However, Korybko emphasizes that “the nuclear deal should remain focused on its titular topic and shouldn’t expand to include others such as missiles, regional influence, and whatever else.”

The following is the text of the interview:

Q: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Iran must move first to restart the nuclear deal, while Iran says America must remove sanctions first. Given that the U.S. under Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal unilaterally and imposed sanctions, is it reasonable to ask Iran to reverse its nuclear steps first?

A: It may be rational, but politics doesn’t always work based on reason despite wishful thinking to the contrary. The U.S. is conventionally much more powerful than Iran in the military and economic sense, which is why it wants to pressure Tehran to make the first move. Iran has powerful asymmetric military capabilities, but they’re irrelevant insofar as coercing the U.S. to make the first move instead.

As it stands, the U.S. will only make the first move as a so-called “goodwill gesture”, which might be reversible and not even undertaken for sincere interests, but rather to get Iran to reciprocate and then possibly manipulate it to pull back once again in order to generate a pretext for justifying further pressure upon it.

Q: In view of the fact that Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran ended in failure, do you think Biden intends to preserve Trump’s sanctions leverage to get more concessions from Iran?

A: Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” policy succeed in terms of inflicting heavy damage on the Iranian economy, but it failed to coerce Tehran to undertaken any unilateral political concessions on the nuclear issue or any others. Biden inherited a formidable toolkit to pressure Iran and will probably leave all options on the table as is the norm. In reality, though, he probably won’t resort to military force to coerce the country into capitulating to its demands since that could lead to unacceptable costs if it spirals out of control. It’s much more likely that he continues using economic and political instruments to that end instead.

Q: How do you assess Biden’s team of advisors and secretaries? Will Biden push the U.S. towards a softer foreign policy?

A: Biden’s rhetoric is comparatively (keyword) softer than Trump’s was towards Iran, but he seems to be just as much of a hawk against China, or at least is disproportionately influenced by those anti-Chinese hawks that are embedded in his country’s permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”). The new administration consists of many Obama-era and -influenced officials who will probably revert back to those policies, albeit modified to adapt to the changing international circumstances created by Trump. Regarding Iran, this might see a false pretense of comparative “friendliness” and “goodwill” as part of a plot to strategically disarm Iran by trying to trick its decision-makers into lowering their guard.

Q: Regimes like Saudi Arabia and Israel try to hinder the revival of the JCPOA or at least make it more difficult. Do you think they can achieve their goals in the Biden administration?

A: “Israel” will always retain powerful influence within the U.S. due to its extensive lobbying network, while Saudi Arabia’s influence might lessen a bit with the new administration. In any case, both of them will try to obstruct the revival of the JCPOA, but it’s unclear to what extent they’ll succeed. After all, they failed to prevent its initial implementation under the Obama Administration, and it’s a matter of professional pride for many of those veterans who are returning to serve under the new administration to revive the accord. If anything, the Biden Administration might make some concessions towards those two in order to address some of their concerns over the deal such as permanently redeploying U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia like some reports have indicated and/or authorizing more yearly so-called “aid” to “Israel”.

Q: Is the JCPOA renegotiable as some Western nuclear deal parties are talking of restricting Iran’s missile capability despite the fact that Tehran has clearly announced that it won’t accept negotiations over its conventional defensive and deterrent capabilities?

A: Anything can always be renegotiated in theory, but whether or not it happens in real life is oftentimes another story. The U.S. wants to weaponize the JCPOA as a means for reducing and eventually outright eliminating Iran’s missile deterrent capabilities, which would in turn weaken its defense and thus make it more vulnerable to conventional attacks from its foes. The nuclear deal should remain focused on its titular topic and shouldn’t expand to include others such as missiles, regional influence, and whatever else. In the event that the U.S. and Iran truly restart negotiations in good faith, Tehran mustn’t let itself be tricked to expand the scope of this deal to include anything else.

Q: Do you think the U.S. and Israel will agree to make West Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ)?
A: No, not at all. They want to reserve the right to deploy and use such weapons, and never will they voluntarily impose any limits on their so-called “freedom of action” in this respect.