In an interview by Jackson Richman, Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative for Venezuela and Iran, discusses the dangers of returning to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran (formally known as the JCPOA), and how Washington might go about negotiating a better deal. He first addresses the successes of the White House’s “maximum-pressure campaign” of economic warfare against the Islamic Republic:
The purpose of the campaign was to build leverage that can be used to force Iran to stop doing the many malicious things it’s doing. . . . We were very critical of the JCPOA for many reasons. [One] is that it covered nuclear activities only. It didn’t cover their missile program. It didn’t cover Iran’s support for terrorism and its many malign activities throughout the region. How do you get Iran to stop doing all of that when they don’t want to? The answer is you need to build up a lot of pressure on them. The leverage is there, which means the campaign has succeeded. Now the question is how that leverage will be used.
Returning to the JCPOA is not like turning a light switch on, off, on, off. Five years have passed since the JCPOA was agreed upon. The first [of its sunset clauses] has already come [into effect in the form of repealing] the arms embargo, and frankly, it’s unbelievable when you think about it that any American administration would have agreed to such a short amount of time to go by before allowing Iran to be able to import and export such serious weaponry as advanced combat jets. And there are more sunsets coming in the next few years.
You can’t just say, “OK, we’re back in JCPOA this morning.” The United States will have some demands of Iran, like exporting the enriched uranium that it now possesses far in excess of what it agreed to in 2015. And the Iranian government has asked for sanctions relief.
My hope is that the next administration recognizes that we have the upper hand. Iran’s economy is reeling. Iran’s people despise this regime, as they showed in [the mass protests of] November of last year. There is no reason that we have to make all sorts of concessions to Iran. They are the ones who need relief.