U.S. elec­tion im­pli­ca­tions for Iran

A Bi­den win por­tends a nu­clear deal do-over

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

For the bet­ter part of a year, Amer­i­cans have nar­rowed their fo­cus to the im­me­di­ate task of sav­ing them­selves from the scourge of the deadly coro­n­avirus. The threat of dis­ease is still po­tent, but the ap­proach of a qua­dren­nial pres­i­den­tial elec­tion ne­ces­si­tates a wider scope of aware­ness. From afar, an an­gry Iran con­tin­ues to glare west­ward. As mil­lions of U.S. vot­ers sit with pen in hand to fill out their mail-in bal­lots, they should pon­der whether they could be also sign­ing off on a re­newed Ira­nian quest for nu­clear arms.

Don­ald Trump has staked the na­tion’s se­cu­rity on a pledge to never al­low the Is­lamic Repub­lic to pos­sess the world’s most de­struc­tive weaponry. He re­it­er­ated the vow during a Sept. 16 White House briefing: “There is no way we will let Iran have a nu­clear weapon.” The prom­ise is con­tin­gent upon his con­tin­ued pres­i­dency, which is no cer­tainty as Mr. Trump’s Elec­tion Day show­down with Joe Bi­den draws near.

The pres­i­dent with­drew from the Oba­maera Iran Nu­clear Deal in 2018 for rea­sons as plain as they were pru­dent: Send­ing a dan­ger­ous ad­ver­sary cash by the planeload, fol­lowed by $150 bil­lion in sanc­tions re­lief in re­turn for an flimsy agree­ment, was hardly the sort of next-level states­man­ship that vaulted Amer­ica to the sta­tus of world su­per­power. Pay­ing a ter­ror-wield­ing regime to pause its atomic am­bi­tions had more the look of a shop owner pony­ing up pro­tec­tion money to pre­vent an “ac­ci­dent” from burn­ing down his es­tab­lish­ment. New York busi­ness­men like Mr. Trump have surely seen that movie be­fore.

Mr. Bi­den, in con­trast, seems to have missed the show. In a Sept. 13 opin­ion piece for CNN on­line, the Demo­cratic chal­lenger laid out his Iran in­ten­tions: “I will make an un­shak­able com­mit­ment to pre­vent Iran from ac­quir­ing a nu­clear weapon.” A prom­ise to make a prom­ise doesn’t com­pare to one al­ready made. If words were walls, most Amer­i­cans would feel safer be­hind Mr. Trump’s vow than Mr. Bi­den’s.

And if Amer­i­cans place him in the White House, Mr. Bi­den says he will “of­fer Tehran a cred­i­ble path back to diplo­macy.” A deal doover may ratchet down im­me­di­ate ten­sion but es­ca­late the risk of an even­tual Ira­nian bomb.

Since U.S. with­drawal from the nu­clear ac­cord, Iran has demon­strated its cha­grin by, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Atomic Energy Agency, pro­duc­ing 10 times its agreed al­lot­ment of en­riched ura­nium. The com­bined ef­fect of sanc­tions and COVID-19, though, has trig­gered a multi-year de­cline in Iran’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, caus­ing un­rest among cit­i­zens pre­fer­ring but­ter over guns. Only empty pock­ets, then, may put nukes out of the mul­lahs’ reach.

The choice for Amer­i­can vot­ers is whether they would feel safer with a dif­fer­ent pres­i­dent who in­tends to dial down eco­nomic pres­sure on a rogue state while talk­ing up a new nu­clear deal, or not.

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