The Philippine Star

Biden’s Iran dilemma: Serve Obama’s third term – or Trump’s second?


Even before winning the 2020 presidenti­al election, Joe Biden began hedging his bets on US policy toward Iran. While correctly blaming Donald Trump for violating the 2015 Joint Comprehens­ive Plan of Action, aka the Iran nuclear deal, he tried to fob responsibi­lity for restoring that deal off on the Iranians rather than accepting the job himself.

“If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal,” he wrote in a September op-ed, “the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiatio­ns.” Since taking office, he and new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have held to that line.

Meanwhile the Iranian government has made it clear that since the US violated the deal first, and pressured other parties to it to violate it as well, the ball is in Biden’s court, not theirs. The US can go back to keeping its word or continue breaking its promises. Biden’s call... and the clock is ticking.

“The time for the United States to come back to the nuclear agreement is not unlimited,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tells CNN. “The United States has a limited window of opportunit­y... The United States has to accept what we agreed upon.”

If becoming president is like celebratin­g Christmas, Biden woke up to a lump of coal in his stocking from Donald Trump and a big, fat, pretty box under the tree from Barack Obama.

The Trump lump is the risk of being seen as “soft on Iran” if he returns to the deal without extracting further concession­s from Tehran.

Obama’s gift went under the tree in July of 2015 when he got the deal codified as a UN Security Council Resolution. The UN charter makes such resolution­s binding on all member-states. The US Senate duly ratified the UN charter as a treaty in 1945, making it, along with the Constituti­on, part of “the supreme law of the land.”

It’s not just true that Joe Biden CAN immediatel­y and unilateral­ly return the US to compliance with the Joint Comprehens­ive Plan of Action. It’s also true that, legally, he MUST do so.

Not that modern US presidents trouble themselves very much over adherence to the Constituti­on or the law, of course. It’s still Biden’s choice to make. And where Iran is concerned, that choice is pretty simple: Does President Joe Biden want to serve Barack Obama’s third term, or Donald Trump’s second?

Think fast, Joe.

Thomas Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertaria­n Advocacy Journalism.

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