Biden's Flailing on the Nuclear Deal Has to Stop

A new report in Foreign Policy details how the Biden administration squandered an early opportunity to salvage the nuclear deal:

“The advice of the Europeans to the Americans was do it quickly and immediately, because all the signals they had from the Iranian side was as soon as the Americans come back, we will come back,” said Gérard Araud, a former French ambassador to the United States and the United Nations who previously led France’s nuclear negotiations with Iran and other key powers. “The best way forward would have been to immediately come back to the [nuclear pact] with an executive order, and they didn’t do it.”

U.S. dawdling in returning to the nuclear deal has naturally disappointed many Biden supporters and supporters of the agreement, who made the mistake of taking Biden at his word when he said that he would return to the agreement. There is understandable frustration that the president is refusing to do something that he said he would do when it is within his power to do it, especially when the reasons that administration officials give for the delay are so weak:

The congressional aide expressed concern that Biden may already have botched an opportunity to make good on a promise to rejoin the nuclear agreement. “This is one of President Biden’s clearest commitments. As a candidate, Biden stated the ‘urgent’ need to rejoin the JCPOA. I am not feeling the fucking urgency,” the congressional aide said, referring to the deal by an abbreviation of its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “They should have done this on day two. Instead, we’re watching the opportunity for diplomacy slip away, and the likelihood of greater conflict increase.”

Biden’s first two months as president have been marked by a slowness to act on foreign policy on a range of issues. Aside from a few welcome, early moves on Yemen, New START, and the travel ban, the Biden administration has shown no sense of urgency in making progress on several time-sensitive issues. The nuclear deal is one of the most obvious, and then there is withdrawal from Afghanistan. Despite being under very real time constraints to get U.S. forces out by the May 1 deadline, the administration has been acting as if they have all the time in the world. Rejoining the JCPOA and exiting Afghanistan would be two significant, correct moves that the Biden administration could have already started to make, and so far the president has refused to do either one. In both cases, delay increases risks for the U.S. and gains the U.S. nothing. Similarly, the president’s rhetoric on North Korea has also been discouraging for anyone that wants successful negotiations to proceed. Yesterday, he referred to supporting “some form of diplomacy” as long as it was conditioned on denuclearization. For all intents and purposes, this amounts to saying that he is in favor of diplomacy only when it can deliver the impossible.

It is strange that the president would be so overly cautious on foreign policy when these are the issues that he is supposed to know best. Rejoining the JCPOA isn’t even all that ambitious. It represents nothing more than returning to the pre-2018 status quo, but for some reason this is a bigger leap than they are prepared to make. U.S. reentry into the agreement is every bit as much of a no-brainer and a lay-up as extending New START was. The public supports doing it, and the vast majority of the world’s governments would welcome the move. If Biden can’t manage to do this at the start of his presidency when his approval rating is still fairly high and his political capital is intact, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of his term when his political position is likely to be weaker than it is now. If the president allows himself to be boxed in and limited by bad faith hawkish attacks now, he is setting the rest of his presidency up for failure.

Every day that the U.S. delays the decision to rejoin the nuclear deal compounds the errors that Biden has already made. Iranian leaders and most of the Iranian people will conclude from this that there is no point in dealing with the U.S. no matter which party is in office. Iranian hard-liners will once again claim vindication, and their political fortunes at home will be bolstered. The Iran hawks that spent the last five years trying and failing to destroy the nuclear deal won’t believe their luck that Obama’s former vice president ended up allowing the agreement to die as result of his carelessness. Instead of proving that “diplomacy is back,” Biden’s flailing on the nuclear deal risks demonstrating that the U.S. is incapable of competent diplomacy.