Recently, the U.S. Government has explored ways to rejoin the Iran Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA was a 2015 agreement between the U.S., Iran and five other countries that restricted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. In 2018, President Trump removed the U.S. from the Deal over criticisms about the Deal’s failures to restrict Iran’s missile program and regional activities. Iran in turn has continued to expand its nuclear program.
President Biden has made it a goal of his administration to return both the U.S. and Iran to compliance with the Deal. Recent talks have been held indirectly in Vienna, with the Iranians refusing to negotiate directly with America. Whether or not any significant progress will be made remains to be seen. Biden’s overall goal of engaging with Iran diplomatically to curb their potential for a nuclear weapon is the best move. Diplomacy is better than embroiling the region into another destructive war. Yet the administration should take heed of past criticism of the Deal as it renews negotiations.The main criticism of the Deal is well-founded: it does nothing to address Iran’s missile program, nor does it address Iran’s sponsorship of armed groups throughout the Middle East. Iranian proxies include Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthi insurgents in Yemen, Shia militias in Iraq and Syria and radical Palestinian groups in Gaza. Iran provides training, equipment, and funds for these groups.
Iran’s ballistic missile program is one of the largest in the world today, and the largest in the Middle East. The U.S. Institute of Peace reports that Iranian missiles will have the capability to reliably strike the U.S. by 2025. Iran has reportedly supplied its proxies with ballistic missiles. Iran has repeatedly been accused of supplying the Houthis with missiles, which have been used multiple times against Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah has also been supplied with thousands of Iranian missiles. The old deal gave Iran the economic ability to continue to fund these groups and expand the country’s armed forces. Returning to the Iran Deal and lifting sanctions may prevent a nuclear Iran from becoming a reality, but once again there would be an economic lifeline to Iran’s military and proxies. Failure to address this issue will only result in further destabilization and violence throughout the region.The administration should make it clear to the Iranians that any return to the Deal should include the expectation that further negotiations be held on Iran’s missile programs and activities. If the Iranians refuse, then a new sanctions campaign should begin. Thus, Biden’s goal should be an expansion of the old Deal, or the creation of a new one altogether. An agreement that limits Iran’s support for proxies and curbs its missile program would bring further stability to the region. It would also give Iran the path for removal of remaining economic sanctions—sanctions which the administration has stated will remain even if the Iranians return to the old deal.