The Iran Nuclear Deal: The US Is Losing Patience; Iran Is Not

The US is growing impatient waiting for Iran to return to the JCPOA nuclear talks, which is odd since they’re the ones who left the agreement, and they’re the ones who have done nothing to return to it, including returning the required sanction relief.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken admonished Iran and said that "time is running short." US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley warned that there is a "shared impatience" between the US and its allies as they wait for Iran.

But as the US grows unfairly impatient, Iran is growing increasingly patient. As time goes by, the reasons may be mounting why Iran is feeling less urgency than they did to rush back into the nuclear agreement.

There are at least four reasons.

Why Negotiate Your Own Punishment?

Iran already signed a nuclear agreement. And they fully complied with their agreement. It may not be consistent with Iran’s logic that they should get punished for the US illegally breaking the agreement. But that is exactly what the US is demanding. The US insists that its return to the JCPOA entails subsequent negotiations to make the agreement "longer and stronger." But why should Iran have to increase restrictions on itself because the US violated the agreement? They won’t. "We will not have a so-called longer and stronger deal," Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told the UN General Assembly in reply to the US demand. And that is one reason why Iran is not feeling urgency to rush back into the deal: they would be rushing into a more punishing deal when it is not they, but the US, who broke the rules.

No Guarantee

Of greatest concern to Iran is not that the US illegally exited the JCPOA. Of greatest concern to Iran is that the US won’t guarantee that they won’t do it again. American unreliability is not only punishing because the US continued to sanction the fully compliant Iran. American unreliability has a much more punishing effect because other countries, afraid the US will return to sanctioning them for trading with Iran, refrain from trading with Iran out of fear of the US.

But even that is not what is of greatest concern to Iran. Iran wanted the US’s commitments under the JCPOA to be legally binding on them this time. That absence had burned Iran once before. But the US refused. American officials claimed that the democratic system prevents them from legally binding administrations that would follow the Biden administration.

But, according to reporting by Trita Parsi, what is most concerning and frustrating to Iran is that, when they conceded to this objection and adapted the demand so that the US’s JCPOA commitments would be legally binding only for the rest of Biden’s term – an obviously reasonable demand – the Biden administration again refused. They were unwilling to guarantee that Biden would honor his agreements and commitments for the duration of his own term even if Iran rejoins the nuclear deal and fully complies with it.

This is the second reason why Iran is feeling no urgency to rush back into the deal: why would you sign a contract with someone who refuses to promise that his signature on a contract guarantees his compliance with that contract?

Waning Leverage

The intention of US sanctions on Iran is to provide leverage in negotiations and starve Iran into capitulation on US nuclear demands. The efficacy of the siege depends on sealing off all markets to Iran. But Iran has found an opening through which they can partially escape. With western markets sealed off to them, Iran has turned east. Iran is not so confident as to feel insulated from US sanctions, but they are more confident than before.

Iran recently signed a twenty-five year strategic and economic partnership with China that is worth $400 billion. They have signed an agreement with Russia for an advanced satellite system. Iran has also become a permanent member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Not restricting their escape to the east, Iran has also announced that they will sign a 20 year cooperation accord with Venezuela.

This newly discovered crack in the siege has lessened US leverage. And that is the third reason Iran is feeling less urgency and pressure to rush back into the deal.

Lessened Local Pressure

Saudi Arabia had joined Israel and several other Middle Eastern nations in an alliance against Iran. Though Saudi Arabia has not itself signed the Abraham Accords, it certainly approved of and supported them. Saudi Arabia does not want to fight a war with Iran, but they would have loved to help push the US into a war with Iran. Plan A was to join an anti-Iran block of nations to put pressure on Iran. It was only in despair over the apparent failure of Plan A that Saudi Arabia began to consider Plan B. If you can’t crush Iran, join them. Plan B is more peaceful relations with Iran.

Since at least the beginning of 2020, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been engaged in de-escalation talks. Saudi Arabia and Iran were talking: Plan B. Since then, the two nations have met several times. And the secret meetings have become public: Iran has confirmed publicly that they and Saudi Arabia are trying to resolve their differences. At the end of August, it was reported that Saudi-Iranian talks are set to resume with the new Iranian government.

Two recent moves are, perhaps, the most significant. Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed to restart Iranian exports to Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia, once solidly opposed to a nuclear agreement with Iran and even to negotiations with Iran, has signaled for the first time that they may be able to live with a nuclear deal with Iran as long as it denies Iran nuclear weapons.

This reduced pressure in Iran’s neighborhood may be one more reason Iran is feeling less urgency to rush back into the deal.

It may be that Iran is in less of a hurry to negotiate its own punishment when there is reduced leverage and pressure, especially when the US is not even willing to guarantee that, if Iran does comply with its own punishment, the US will comply with its obligation to remove sanctions: sanctions that are losing some of their force.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.