Another point of view: Biden should aim for a treaty, not a deal, with Iran
Among the many revelations in a recently leaked interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is a fleeting reflection on the nuclear deal his country signed with world powers in 2015. Zarif admits he was ” naive ”to assume that US President Barack Obama could keep a deal he made without congressional approval.
He is right. the Common Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is officially known, was a case study on the limits of presidential power in making deals. The absence of an Imprimatur from Congress on the deal made it easy for Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, to walk away from it.
Now, as the signatories enter the home stretch of negotiations to bring the United States back to compliance, they are making the same mistake. President Biden, eager to resuscitate the deal, makes no significant effort to rally Congress; the Iranians, despite question reliability American promises, do not insist that they be backed by law.
The smarter way for both sides is to stand firm for a treaty, sanctioned by the US Senate.
Without such a claim, the credibility of a resurrected nuclear deal will remain subordinate to the political calculations of future presidents. In turn, this will undermine the economic value of the deal: who would invest in Iran knowing that sanctions could easily be reimposed by the next occupant of the White House? And if the deal’s dividends fall short of Iran’s expectations, it may well feel compelled to reconsider its own commitments.
An agreement that mitigates Iran’s threat to the Middle East and prevents conflict with the United States is far too important to be left to the whim of the executive. Washington and Tehran should make good faith efforts to reach a national consensus.
The Iranians will have an easier time. Although there are differences of opinion on the agreement between the different political factions, there is general agreement on the need to free the Islamic Republic from economic sanctions. This is also the view of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – and unlike the US President, his office is not subject to fluctuations in electoral politics.
Biden has a higher mountain to climb. Under the US Constitution, turning the nuclear deal into a treaty would require two-thirds Senate approval. At first glance, this seems an impossible standard. There is bipartisan skepticism about the deal, and broad support for a revised deal that addresses not only Iran’s nuclear threat, but also other ways it endangers the Middle East, including its support for terrorist groups and sectarian militias.
Khamenei said Iran would not broaden the scope of the negotiations currently underway in Vienna, but not so long ago it refused to even discuss its nuclear program. The election of a new president this month will give Tehran an opportunity for a reset. Biden must convince the Iranians and Congress that a comprehensive treaty is the outcome they both want – a deal that will survive the vagaries of time and presidential politics.