The Iran nuclear deal dance begins anew – Analysis

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There is something decidedly old school – in a negative way – about the way the European powers and the US talk about proposed moves to reenter and resurrect the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), informally known as the Iranian nuclear deal.

Speaking via a videoconferencing to the Munich Security Conference on Friday, US President Joe Biden said that the US is prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 (China, Russia, Germany, Britain, France). “We must also address Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East, and we’re going to work in close cooperation with our European and other partners as we proceed.”

One would think that when discussing Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East, the other partners – i.e., the countries in the Mideast most threatened by Iran’s malign activities – would be the first to be seated around the table, and then “our European partners.”

The 2015 nuclear deal, whose sanctions relief led to Iran getting an infusion of cash, led to a spike in Iran’s malevolent activity from Yemen, through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and even reaching down to Gaza. These designs threatened Israel and the Gulf countries, particularly the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. One would think that they should be involved in the negotiations, and indeed get marquee billing.

Why? Because, in the final analysis, if a deal with Iran turns sour, the countries most likely to pay for the mistakes are the countries in the region that Iran threatens – Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain. The voices of those countries need to be heard, and they also need to be seen as being heard.

Otherwise, it seems like the world’s powerful countries – as in times gone by – are simply getting together without the input of those most intimately impacted and making fateful decisions affecting other people’s destinies. It conjures up images of bygone years when Britain and France carved up the Middle East after the demise of the Ottoman empire.

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While Iran poses a threat to the world, those most immediately impacted by its actions – by its hegemonic designs – are the countries in the region. The input of Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and others in the region should be sought out, heard and heeded – they will be impacted more greatly by Iran than Britain, France, China, Russia, Germany or the US.

On Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US would “accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program.”

Also on that day, the Biden administration informed the UN Security Council it was withdrawing former president Donald Trump’s announcement that UN sanctions against Iran would snap back as a result of its violations of the agreement. Trump’s announcement of the snapback sanctions was widely ignored.

The Biden administration also announced that it was easing Trump-era travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats at the UN.

IN OTHER words, it’s starting – The diplomatic dance to restore the JCPOA has begun now in earnest. America’s intention to reenter the deal is clear, though Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki said that the US does not plan to take additional steps to lure the Iranians to the table.

The two countries are at loggerheads over what comes first, whether the US removes sanctions it imposed – the Iranian demand – or the Iranians go back into full compliance with the JCPOA, which is what the US is demanding.

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On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement reiterating his firm opposition to the deal, saying that Israel remains committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and its position on the nuclear agreement has not changed.

“Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. Israel is in close contact with the United States on this matter,” he declared.

That last sentence, though it seems rather innocuous, is significant, because it is not a given.

In the run-up to the 2015 nuclear agreement, Netanyahu put out directories to all government bodies – including the security branches and the Foreign Ministry – that they were not to engage with either the US or other members of the P5+1 over the fledgling agreement, because Jerusalem did not want to create the impression that it was in anyway legitimizing a “bad agreement.” No agreement is better than a bad agreement, he said repeatedly.

Netanyahu stressing now that the US and Israel are in close contact regarding the Iranian dossier indicates that this time Israel is actively giving its input.

France’s Emmanuel Macron also called recently for Saudi Arabia to be brought into the process. “Dialogue with Iran will be rigorous, and they will need to include our allies in the region for a nuclear deal, and this includes Saudi Arabia,” Macron told Al Arabiya in January. Saudi Arabia, no less than Israel, is an interested party in the matter whose voice needs to be heard. The same is true of the UAE.

Much has changed in the region since the JCPOA was concluded in 2015, the most striking change being the Abraham Accords, especially the new agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, as well as the enhanced and thinly veiled cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

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When Israel and the Arab countries agree on something, Netanyahu said frequently before the JCPOA was reached, the world should listen. But back then, when Israel and the Gulf countries agreed on Iran, they were – mostly – voicing their concerns separately: Netanyahu very publicly, the Gulf countries more discreetly behind closed doors. Now, however, they can do it together, thereby amplifying the effect.

The US and the other world powers would do well to listen to what Israel and the key Gulf states have to say on the matter – first, because they are closest to the Iranians and have the most to lose if the Iranians get nuclear weapons or ballistic weapons or an infusion of cash to send to regional proxies, and secondly because, if left out of the loop, they could decide to take actions themselves to set back what they view as an existential threat.

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