The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign on Iran has created leverage for US President-elect Joe Biden to negotiate a better nuclear deal, experts said Tuesday.
Since withdrawing from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal in 2018, the Trump administration has imposed its “maximum pressure” campaign on the Iranian regime through increasing economic sanctions.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said the next US secretary of state, under Biden, would have the chance “for some creative diplomacy” when it comes to Iran due to the maximum pressure strategy.
US President Donald Trump “has created leverage for a skilled negotiator,” Friedman said during an expert panel held by the National Council on US-Arab Relations’ Policymakers Conference.
Fellow panelist Mohammed Alyahya, editor-in-chief of Al Arabiya English, agreed that Trump’s strategy had created leverage for the US in negotiations with Iran and did not lead to a regional war as some predicted.
US sanctions “deprived Iran of the resources it needs to maintain its regional agenda,” said Alyahya, adding that the 2015 nuclear deal had a major flaw in ignoring Iran’s regional expansion and funding of militias.
“If the United States is able to broker a deal with Iran that eliminates its support for Sunni terrorism like al-Qaeda, if Iran extends its hands to its neighbors instead of its militias and non-state actors, it’s a win-win for everyone in the region,” he said.
Biden has said that if Iran were to return to “strict compliance” with the nuclear deal, he would have the US rejoin the agreement as a starting point for further negotiations.
However, there is “zero chance we are going back to the Iran nuclear deal as it was pre-Trump,” according to Friedman.
Any potential revised deal would have some kind of limit on Iran transferring precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon, he said, adding that it also will likely have “extended restrictions” on Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.
The unpopularity of the Iranian regime
Both Friedman and Alyahya disagreed with panelist Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council who said that Iran is now “more powerful and influential” in the region than ever before.
“I don’t think they are more influential. I think to be influential you have to be popular,” said Friedman, adding that Iranian influence in Lebanon and Iraq is based on “raw coercion.”
Iran’s “business model has been to spread their influence by basically hiring Arab Shias to fight Arab Sunnis,” he said.
There are currently over 34 Shia militia organizations spanning across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, with a total of 242 brigades, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Shia Militia Mapping Project.
Alyahya said that young people in Iraq and Lebanon are seeing through “gimmicks” used by Iran, which manipulate religious ideology to promote a struggle against the West.
“People want actual jobs. People are open to the idea of opening up to the West,” he said.
Protests in Iraq and Lebanon that started late last year have been viewed as examples of rising anti-Tehran opinion in the Middle East, with many demonstrators coming out against Iran’s interference in their domestic politics.
Iranian officials have tried to undermine the anti-government protests in Iraq and Lebanon as being orchestrated by enemies of “the Resistance Axis,” like the US.
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