A lot of forces are at work to sabotage a future Biden administration’s attempts to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Officials from Israel and Gulf states hostile to Iran are warning Joe Biden against rejoining the JCPOA.
In an interview with Axios, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said he expects Biden to consult with Bahrain and other Gulf countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia before moving towards a new nuclear deal with Iran.
“Any nation concerned by Iran’s belligerence should, and will, make their case,” al-Zayani said. “We will certainly make our views known. We have a close and open dialog with the United States, so I am sure that other regional states will make these concerns absolutely clear.”
Al-Zayani said any new deal should not only cover Iran’s nuclear program but also its activity in the region, and its ballistic missile program. Iran has made it clear they would not negotiate a new deal until the US provided sanction relief and returns to the JCPOA.
Al-Zayani made the comments from Israel, making him the first Bahraini government minister to visit the country, a trip made possible by Bahrain’s decision to normalize relations with Israel. The agreement, known as the Abrams Accords, was also signed by the UAE and seen by some as a way to isolate Iran.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also in Israel and held a trilateral meeting with al-Zayani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During the meeting, Pompeo said the normalization agreements “tell malign actors like the Islamic Republic of Iran that … they are ever-more isolated and shall forever be until they change their direction.”
Israeli officials told Axios that they hope the normalization agreements with Bahrain in the UAE will help form a united line to Biden on a new Iran deal. Two officials said Israel is planning a strategy to influence the Biden administration on Iran.
According to the officials, Israel’s foreign ministry formed a special team led by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to influnce Biden’s negotiations with Iran. Ashkenazi told a Knesset hearing last week that the team will try to convince Biden to link nuclear issues with Iran’s regional behavior and missile program, the same issues Bahrain wants to be addressed.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, a former ambassador to the US, chimed in on the Iran issue. Faisal also warned Biden against rejoining the JCPOA. He said reentering the agreement would “would not do service to stability in our region.” Biden has said he would return to the JCPOA as a starting point for more negotiations, an idea Faisal rejected.
“Rejoining and then negotiating the other important issues would trap diplomacy and subject it to Iranian blackmail,” Faisal said.
The Trump administration is planning to sanction Iran as much as possible in the coming weeks to make it difficult for Biden to rejoin the JCPOA. Recent reports that said President Trump reviewed options to strike Iran’s nuclear program raised fears the administration could go as far as to provoke a military confrontation to tie Biden’s hands.
For their part, Iran seems willing to return to the JCPOA if Biden lifts sanctions. “If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said.