Despite speculations that the Iran deal would drop earlier this week, negotiators in Vienna are still stalling, primarily over Russian demands. EU foreign minister Josep Borrell tweeted that the final text of the agreement is “essentially ready and on the table.”
A pause in #ViennaTalks is needed, due to external factors.
A final text is essentially ready and on the table.
As coordinator, I will, with my team, continue to be in touch with all #JCPOA participants and the U.S. to overcome the current situation and to close the agreement.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) March 11, 2022
Russia continues to demand that U.S. sanctions in response to the brutal invasion of Ukraine do not effect Moscow’s trade with Tehran.
Given Putin’s needless brutality over the last months, it’s by no means unreasonable to block the Russians from seeking a perk from the proceedings in Vienna. On Tuesday, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland accused Russia of “trying to up the ante and broaden its demands” in Vienna, but said the U.S. is not “playing ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’” She confirmed that the administration has not made any binding guarantees to Russia for any insulation from sanctions.
Biden’s overall response to Putin — including his recent sanctions on Russian oil — have been popular among the American people. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 50 percent of voters approve of Biden’s handling of Ukraine, while 44 percent disapprove. This is better than the president’s overall approval rating, which is 42 percent with 57 percent of voters saying they disapprove of his job performance.
But the stance also reveals a deep inconsistency in the administration’s approach to foreign policy. While appropriately showing strength in response to the brutal invasion of Ukraine, Biden’s foreign policy elsewhere has been capitulatory, especially in the context of this deal. As I’ve written several times, the administration has been willing to give the store to Iran. Between conceding billions in sanction relief, an end to terrorism sanctions, flimsy limits on uranium enrichment, and effectively handing Iran a desperate oil market, the U.S. has shown weakness in response to a rogue and destabilizing regime. And yet, though a little late to the party, the Biden administration finally started punishing Russia for its regionally destabilizing behavior.
Even when it comes to Russian involvement in Vienna, though, the White House has been deeply inconsistent in its projection of strength, allowing Russia far too much leverage throughout the negotiations. Behnam Ben Taleblu from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told National Review that “Russia has been Iran’s lawyer on the P5+1.” Countries like China and Russia want to use Iran “as a pawn in their game of strategic competition against the West. . . . Iran has often been the shoe that [Russia] could press against the side of Washington,” says Taleblu. And up until Ukraine, Biden gave Russia every impression it could use Iran to its benefit.
Earlier today, Andy McCarthy listed Biden’s inconsistent approach in regards to Russia:
Even as President Biden has condemned Russia’s aggression, his administration has made Putin’s regime its most significant intermediary in the talks with Tehran, a client of Moscow. Not only has Putin’s envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, been delegated a leading role — because Iran still will not deign to meet with Biden’s Iran-friendly envoy, Robert Malley; the new deal hinges on Russia’s agreement to house the uranium that Iran has been enriching to levels ever closer to weapons grade.
Now, as negotiations stall, the Biden administration is facing the complications of its incoherent attempt at foreign policy. But hey, the deal was bad anyway, so you won’t see me shedding any tears.
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