The U.S. Should Rethink Its Approach to Reviving the Iran Nuclear Deal

The U.S. Should Rethink Its Approach to Reviving the Iran Nuclear Deal
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses a joint session of lawmakers and Cabinet members in the parliament, Tehran, Iran, Dec. 1, 2021 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

More than three years after former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and almost a year after his successor, Joe Biden, took office seeking to revive it, the consequences of the U.S. withdrawal are becoming increasingly clear—and increasingly grim. Even in Israel, one of few countries that supported Trump’s approach to the Middle East, former senior security officials are widely rebuking his decision to renege on the accord. As Gadi Eisenkot, the former Israeli chief of staff, recently declared, the U.S. withdrawal from the deal “was a net negative for Israel: It released Iran from all restrictions, and brought its nuclear program to a much more advanced position.”

Some hawkish critics of Biden’s attempts to revive the deal accuse him of using an “all carrot, no sticks” approach to the currently stalled negotiations in Vienna. In fact, Biden has pursued a continuation of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, and the only carrots he is offering provide Iran the prospect—but not any certainty—of long-term benefits in exchange for rejoining a deal the U.S. already reneged on once. Iran is understandably reluctant to do so, but it might if it knows it will enjoy immediate economic benefits from reviving the deal, regardless of whether a future U.S. president abandons it again in 2025.

In other words, restoring the deal’s stringent constraints on the Iranian nuclear program requires creative thinking about what economic incentives might induce Tehran to return to compliance, rather than doubling down on the failed policies that created this crisis.

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