The CIA’s Poorly Timed Demonstration of Weakness toward Iran

October 13, 2021 | Elliott Abrams
About the author: Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the incoming chairman of the Tikvah Fund.

The Central Intelligence Agency recently announced that it is closing its Iran Mission Center, which means that it will be paying less attention to the Islamic Republic. To Elliott Abrams, the decision sends an unambiguous message that the Biden administration desires a “softer approach” toward the ayatollahs:

This is exactly the wrong moment to send such a message. Iran is violating not only the Obama Iran deal, [formally known as] the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), every day, but also the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and continues to refuse the International Atomic Energy Agency access that is required of every NPT signatory. As is becoming clearer by the day, Iran is not intending to return to the JCPOA, and the new government of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is taking a far harder line.

At this exact moment, it seems dangerously unwise to make bureaucratic moves that signal a softer line on the Iranian threat and less attention to it at the top. . . . The deeper problem, of course, is that this message may give an accurate sense of the Biden administration’s policy. Iran’s conduct grows worse and worse, but there is no sign that the Biden administration is yet contemplating the tougher steps it must take as Iran proceeds apace toward possessing a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it. Dreams of a return to the JCPOA seem to die hard. And the great danger the administration seems most acutely determined to avoid is any move that might invite comparison to its predecessor and the “maximum-pressure” campaign of 2019–21.

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