Biden is squandering the opportunity to end the cycle of war in the Middle East with continued provocations against Iran, writes Chris Nineham
Like the leaders of Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984, Joe Biden seems to think ‘war is peace.’ One of his election promises was to revive the JCPOA, the nuclear arms deal negotiated with Iran’s leaders in 2015, a deal unceremoniously trashed by Donald Trump in 2018. However, on Sunday night Biden ordered air strikes on what the Pentagon say were Iranian-backed militia in Iraq and Syria.
Given that the US unilaterally pulled out of the deal, getting it up and running again was always going to require some trust building by the new US administration. Instead, what we have had is a series of delays and provocations against the Iranian government. The current round of arms-length negotiations with Iran taking place in Vienna only began in April, and even then only as a result of intensive diplomacy by the former European Parliament President Josep Borrell – who is now the European Union’s foreign policy chief.
The sixth round of shuttle diplomacy in Vienna has ended without an agreement. In the meantime Joe Biden has refused to ease the ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions imposed on Iran by Donald Trump. The sanctions regime has caused immense damage to the Iranian economy and real suffering for the Iranian people. The US’s failure even to make any conciliatory gestures has unsurprisingly created deep cynicism in Iran.
Worse still, in February, Biden ordered military strikes on Iranian militia in Syria and on Sunday a new round of rocket attacks on what the Pentagon called operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq. According to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least five Iraqi militiamen were killed in Sunday’s airstrikes.
Added to this on June 22 U.S. authorities seized around three dozen Iranian state-linked news website domains, accusing the sites of spreading “disinformation.”
These delays and attacks have significantly narrowed the chances of any kind of deal taking place. The failure to engage in talks immediately after Biden’s inauguration weakened the hand of the reformers in Iran in the run up to the recent Iranian presidential election, ensuring the victory of the hardliner Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi has a history of anti-Western sentiment and says that though he wants a deal, he would refuse to meet with President Biden.
US administration officials claim there is a window of opportunity for reaching an agreement before Raisi takes office. But Biden seems equivocal at best and frankly more concerned to placate hardliners in his own party and to keep close to the new hard-right Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett who is deeply hostile to any kind of deal with Iran.
Biden keeps piling on the conditions. He has indicated that progress in the Iran talks depends on Iran making the first moves and on the Iranians agreeing to long term changes to their Middle East foreign policy. This is disastrous. Unlike the current President Hassan Rouhani, who leaves office in August, Raisi is likely to reject the prospect of wider talks with the US on regional issues.
If a new deal is not done with Iran, the road to war in the Middle East will be wide open once again. Time is running out. The anti-war movement needs to mount maximum pressure on Biden to stop the provocations, to abandon new conditions and call for a genuine attempt to end the cycle of war that has devastated the region.
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Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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