Iran Won’t Renew Its Nuclear Deal with the U.S. under Any Circumstances

March 23, 2020 | Ray Takeyh
About the author: Ray Takeyh is Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His areas of specialization are Iran, political reform in the Middle East, and Islamist movements and parties.

A favorite refrain of many experts on the Islamic Republic is that the regime is divided between “moderates,” and “hardliners.” While such divisions indeed exist, both groups—contrary to the claims of these experts—support terrorism, obtaining nuclear weapons, and the destruction of Israel. The moderates of Iran do not share the political vision of the West; rather, explains Ray Takeyh, the moderates (or modernizers, as he calls them), favored the 2015 nuclear deal in order to acquire more advanced nuclear technology under better economic circumstances. They therefore have little reason now to support a less favorable agreement, or even a return to the 2015 terms:

The success of the modernizers means that a critical constituency that supported the previous diplomatic efforts to resolve the nuclear issue is no longer inclined toward compromise. The modernizers are in charge, and they will not concede on capabilities that they have struggled to bring online over the past few years. The Trump administration is sensibly insisting on an agreement that shuts down Iran’s enrichment plants, something that Ali Akbar Salehi [the modernizing head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran], and his cadre will not accept.

Joe Biden, like the other Democratic presidential candidates, has talked of returning to an agreement that is already disappearing as its many sunset clauses [begin to go into effect]. If the Democratic nominee wins in November and wishes to negotiate an extension of those restrictions, that effort will be met with a wall of resistance from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

In today’s Iran, neither the political class nor the scientific establishment wants a new nuclear agreement. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the hardliners don’t believe that the sanctions are the primary cause of their financial predicament and insist that they can revive the economy by isolating it from global markets. They are wrong, and it makes them impossible interlocutors for enterprising Americans. In the meantime, Salehi is on the verge of modernizing a nuclear infrastructure that can produce bombs quickly and, he hopes, without getting detected. All this means he will not yield to any proposed restrictions.

It is time we abandon the delusion of arms control and focus on undermining a regime that has lost its popular mandate. The Islamic Republic is bound to follow other discredited ideological experiments of the 20th century into the dustbin of history. Instead of chasing another agreement, we must adopt Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum: we win; they lose.

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