It’s in America’s Interest for Biden to Pursue Diplomacy with Iran – Yes, Right Now

With reform-oriented Masoud Pezeshkian coming to power in Iran, a region on hair-trigger as the Israel/Hamas conflict rages on, and a shifting balance of power in US domestic politics and security needs, now is the time to return to diplomacy with Iran, argues CIP Vice President for Government Affairs Dylan Williams in a new commentary in The Hill. He writes:

Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal remains one of the worst foreign policy blunders in American history, but it’s one we now have a new opportunity to fix.

President Joe Biden should not miss this chance to conclude his presidency with a major security win while assisting Vice President Kamala Harris in setting a popularly supported course for a more peaceful and stable Middle East.

The 2015 multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) blocked each of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon, and its slow collapse in the wake of Trump’s unilateral abandonment has resulted in across-the-board losses for both U.S. and regional security. It not only triggered an entirely predictable (and predicted) expansion of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities but it also bolstered the political fortunes of Iranian hardliners who had warned the United States would not stick to the deal.

While there are clear hurdles to finding a worthwhile agreement in Biden’s remaining time in office, including the nuclear program’s advances following the U.S. withdrawal from the deal, progress is possible, Williams argues:

There remain key elements of the original deal — particularly those relating to unprecedented and permanent inspection and monitoring to prevent weaponization — that would be a major security win to restore.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle, however, would be Iran’s and the rest of the world’s certainty that a deal reached — or progress in negotiations made — under President Biden would be again repudiated by Trump were he to return to office.

While the U.S. presidential election will not be decided based on whether a deal is achieved with Iran, the pursuit and near-finalization of one in the coming months would help motivate and sharpen the choice facing American voters, particularly among independents and Democrats who favored the JCPOA by strong majorities or supermajorities.

Read the full commentary  here.

Iran’s Election Surprise: A Reformist Victory Amid Turmoil

In a dramatic turn of events, Masoud Pezeshkian’s election as Iran’s new president has set the stage for potential change in a nation grappling with deep-seated discontent and geopolitical turmoil. His victory in a snap presidential election, just 50 days after a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of conservative president Ebrahim Raisi, the foreign minister, a governor, and five others, carries significant implications for Iran, the region, and US-Iran relations. This election comes at a critical juncture, with ongoing conflicts such as the Gaza war, the looming threat of its expansion to Lebanon, continued US sanctions on Iran, a rapidly growing Iranian nuclear program, and shifting geopolitical winds challenging the US-dominated global order.

Pezeshkian’s victory is particularly noteworthy given Iran’s political system, which does not hold free or fair elections and is heavily influenced by unelected institutions and theocratic bodies. The Islamic Republic, born from the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed Shah, has been characterized by a persistent power struggle between its republican factions, which advocate for greater political inclusion and reform, and its religiously fundamentalist and ideological factions, which prioritize theocratic governance and strict adherence to revolutionary principles. This internal tension has shaped Iran’s domestic and foreign policies, creating an often contentious political environment.

This election highlighted the enduring clash within the Islamic Republic’s political landscape, and was set against a backdrop of widespread discontent among Iranians. Many citizens are profoundly disillusioned or actively opposed to a political system that has imposed severe economic hardships, social and political restrictions, including pervasive internet censorship, and the enforcement of traditional religious norms like mandatory hijab, in an increasingly secular society. The political environment has also become more insular in recent years, with reformist and moderate figures who once played significant roles becoming largely marginalized.

Pezeshkian’s victory is significant on multiple levels. His approval to run by the Guardian Council—a 12-member body of clerics and jurists that vets candidates—marked the first time in years that a prominent reformist was allowed to seek the presidency. Pezeshkian, a five-term parliamentarian and former health minister in the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami, has represented Tabriz in northwestern Iran, near the Turkish border, where his core constituency includes Iranian Azeris and Kurds, reflecting his own ethnic heritage.

Speculation abounds regarding the motivations behind the Guardian Council, and by extension the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in allowing Pezeshkian to run. It was likely an attempt to increase voter turnout, which had dropped to historic lows in uncompetitive elections since 2021. The Guardian Council approved six candidates, with Pezeshkian being the only reformist, and his main competitors being hardline conservatives.

His approval to run by the Guardian Council—a 12-member body of clerics and jurists that vets candidates—marked the first time in years that a prominent reformist was allowed to seek the presidency.

The election’s outcome, however, likely deviated from the Guardian Council’s expectations. The first round saw a new historic low turnout of 39.93%, a reflection of the electorate’s deep-seated apathy and disillusionment. However, amid intense rivalry among conservatives, Pezeshkian emerged as the frontrunner, with Saeed Jalili, a staunch hardliner, advancing to the second round. This result shocked the Iranian political landscape, as historically, lower turnout has typically benefited conservative candidates.

In the second round, Pezeshkian, representing the republican wing of the Islamic Republic, faced off against Jalili, who advocated for autarky and a return to the 1979 revolutionary ideology. The results delivered another surprise: turnout increased to 49.68%.

A critical aspect of this election was the electorate’s strategic behavior. Two key groups emerged: those who actively voted for Pezeshkian in both rounds and those who abstained strategically in the first round but participated in the second. The former rejected Jalili’s ideology, while the latter, through calculated abstention, significantly influenced the outcome and sent an undeniable message to the authorities. By abstaining initially, they sent a message of discontent, and the subsequent participation of part of this constituency ensured Pezeshkian’s victory while maintaining their protest voice and signaling ongoing dissatisfaction.

By abstaining initially, [second-round voters] sent a message of discontent, and the subsequent participation of part of this constituency ensured Pezeshkian’s victory while maintaining their protest voice and signaling ongoing dissatisfaction.

Looking ahead, Pezeshkian faces numerous challenges. He ran on a platform calling for an end to mandatory hijab enforcement, easing social restrictions, opening up the political arena, and pursuing constructive international relations, including with the West. During debates, he emphasized the debilitating impact of sanctions and the need for negotiations to lift them. He defended the 2015 nuclear deal, abandoned by the Trump administration, which reimposed US sanctions and decimated the political capital of centrist former president Hassan Rouhani. He also criticized hardliners for actions that he said immensely harmed the country, such as attacks on the Saudi and British embassies.

Hardliners and unelected institutions in Iran will undoubtedly try to obstruct Pezeshkian’s reformist efforts. Their influence, coupled with continued policies of sanctions and regime change from hawkish forces in the US, Israel, and Europe, presents significant challenges. Yet, the Iranian electorate has made its stance unmistakably clear: it rejects extremism and desires a better quality of life, both domestically and through constructive international engagement. Pezeshkian’s platform, centered on economic revitalization and improving diplomatic relations, resonates deeply with the aspirations of many Iranians. This election signals a major moment in Iran, reflecting a collective yearning for progressive change and a break from the past.

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