Prominent Iran-based and Iranian diaspora critics of Tehran’s Islamist rulers have differing expectations about how far U.S. President Joe Biden will go to implement his promised new approach to dealing with Iran’s objectionable behavior.
Biden, who took office on Wednesday, has vowed to use diplomacy in coordination with U.S. allies to try to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 deal in which world powers offered Iranian leaders sanctions relief in return for curbs on nuclear activities that could be diverted into weapons production.
Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, saying it was not tough enough on Iran, and unilaterally tightened U.S. sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran into scrapping its nuclear program and other activities deemed a threat to the U.S. and its allies. Tehran has vowed to defy what Trump called his “maximum pressure” policy and has denied seeking nuclear weapons.
The Biden administration has said Iran must stop the escalating series of JCPOA violations that it began in retaliation for the 2018 pullout and return to compliance before the U.S. also returns to the deal. Tehran has said Washington should make the first move by easing sanctions. Other world powers, including U.S. allies in Europe, have called on both the U.S. and Iran to fully recommit to the 2015 agreement.
Some of Tehran’s Iran-based and Iranian diaspora critics who appeared in VOA Persian’s TV coverage of Biden’s Wednesday inauguration said they expect him to be more aligned with European powers than was Trump in responding to Iran’s nuclear deal violations.
Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said Biden is likely to take the initiative by signing an executive order rescinding Trump’s 2018 nuclear deal pullout.
“We can expect Iran to do the same and start the process of returning to its full compliance under the JCPOA,” Vaez said. “Eventually, the JCPOA’s joint commission can set a two- to three-month timeline for both sides to take steps to return to their commitments, for example by Iran sending its enriched uranium stockpile overseas and the U.S. restoring access to some of Iran’s blocked bank accounts on the same day,” he added.
Ghasem Sholeh-Saadi, a Tehran University law professor and former Iranian lawmaker, said he expects Biden to usher in a “remarkable” change in U.S. coordination with its European allies on Iran.
“Biden has the international credibility to be able to form a significant coalition against Iran if he wants to pursue that path,” Sholeh-Saadi said.
Other Iranian diaspora commentators said they expect Biden to build on, rather than abandon, Trump’s maximum pressure policy toward Tehran.
Abbas Milani, director of Iran studies at Stanford University, said the escalation in U.S.-Iran tensions in the years since the JCPOA was signed makes it impossible to return to the deal.
“I don’t see President Biden and his team returning to an agreement from which Iran has effectively withdrawn,” Milani said.
Bijan Kian, who worked with Trump’s 2016 presidential transition team on intelligence issues said he expects Biden to negotiate any new deal to stop objectionable Iranian behavior from a position of strength built by the Trump administration. Under such an agreement, Iran’s ruling clerics would have a “very tough road ahead,” he said.
Iranian diaspora rights activists also differed in how they said Biden should respond to Iran’s suppression of anti-government protests and its imprisonment and executions of dissidents in recent years.
Amir Hossein Etemadi, a Washington-based member of pro-democracy group Iran Revival (Farashgard), said the Biden administration should support Iranians’ desire for democracy in the same way that he believes the Trump administration did. Biden “must stand with the Iranian people against their government, because Iranians are peace-loving and seek friendship with the U.S.,” he said.
Roya Boroumand, co-founder of the rights group Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, said Biden should go further than Trump in helping the Iranian people to raise their voices.
She said the Trump administration erred by not including its calls for Iran to stop domestic repression of dissent as one of multiple U.S. conditions for ending “maximum pressure” against Tehran. Most of those conditions involved Iran stopping its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and ending its support for Islamist militants who have fought the U.S. and its allies in the region.
“Trump’s approach conveyed a bad message to the Iranian regime that changes in its foreign policy would be enough to remove the maximum pressure,” Boroumand said. “It also enabled Iranians who have no respect for human rights to tell others that the U.S. also disregards human rights and uses them just to promote political agendas.”
This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.