If Iran doesn't come back to the nuclear deal, it will probably be America's fault.
We know this because Iran announced Wednesday it will rejoin talks to revive the 2015 agreement, under which Tehran curbed its development of atomic technologies in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The news is something of a surprise: The election of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, who won the presidency in June, had diminished hopes that the U.S. and Iran might finally come to an agreement. Apparently there's still hope.
Now it's President Biden's turn to make a good-faith effort to restore the deal. The question is whether he will take advantage of the opportunity.
It's hard to say. Biden sensibly campaigned last year on a pledge to re-engage Iran, but he's done a bafflingly lousy job of following through. In February, the administration rejected a proposal in which the U.S. and Iran would simultaneously re-enter the nuclear agreement; America would ease back sanctions while Iran resumed compliance. Instead, the White House essentially told Iran: "You first." (That was audacious, considering that the original deal had been scuttled for no good reason by the United States under then-President Donald Trump in 2018.) Rather than accept those unbalanced terms, Iran chose to keep growing its stockpile of enriched uranium, an activity Tehran resumed a year after Trump's exit, though it still doesn't have enough to make a bomb.
This has led the United States — along with Israel — to make increasingly belligerent sounds toward Iran. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid discussed the possibility of a "Plan B" option if the nuclear deal isn't resurrected. They left the details unmentioned, but it seemed clear the plan would involve some level of military or covert action against Iran's nuclear facilities. "If a terror regime is going to acquire a nuclear weapon we must act," Lapid said. "We must make clear that the civilized world won't allow it."
That's no surprise: Hawks in the U.S. and Israel have seemed positively eager for war with Iran for much of the last 20 years. But bluster and threats have mostly produced pushback from Tehran; the Obama administration diplomacy that produced the original deal was probably the biggest success America and its allies have had in restraining Iran's nuclear ambitions. The country's willingness to return to the negotiating table suggests Iran would prefer a revived agreement — peace — to continued sanctions or war.
Biden has said that's what he wants, too. Here's his chance to prove it.