Biden May Only Have Four Weeks To Revive Iran Deal | Opinion

As with the many crises Joe Biden inherited when he took his oath on the Capitol steps, his predecessor's disastrous policy towards Iran and the resultant nuclear standoff will require swift action at the new administration's onset. The window of opportunity for the new President to stem the bleeding from Trump's abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal and get back to the negotiating table may only be open for a matter of weeks.

In August, Iran's outgoing administration—which staked the political future of moderates and reformists on the promise that a successful nuclear deal with the West would usher in an improved economy and open opportunities for domestic reforms—will leave office.

But long before that, in less than 60 days, Iran will celebrate Norooz, the Persian new year, before moving into its presidential campaign season—and few expect any serious diplomatic initiatives can take place until a new president is sworn in.

And sooner still, on February 21, Iran will begin unwinding the final, most important aspects of its adherence to the nuclear deal and limiting inspections thanks to a mandate passed by Iran's parliament over the Rouhani administration's objections.

That gives Biden's team less than four weeks before the first potential flashpoint that could derail its diplomatic ambitions.

The new administration has indicated it will seek a return to the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of action (JCPOA), without preconditions—so long as Iran returns to the commitments it has calculatedly abandoned in response to Trump's abdication of the nuclear deal. Ultimately, Biden's team has indicated it aspires for regional negotiations with all the stakeholders, recognizing that all the players must be ready to bargain if there is to be any credible effort to convince Iran to put the core elements of it's security doctrine on the table—ballistic missiles and support for proxy groups.

Trying to do this all at once would ensure failure, which is exactly why many opponents of negotiations will urge just that. For the adherents of #swagger diplomacy, every challenge with Iran must already be resolved... before any challenge can be resolved. But while there is much to do, thankfully it must not all happen at once. Sequencing will be key.

The first step is the easiest and most urgent—as Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken made clear at his confirmation hearing that a return to the Iran nuclear deal will provide the bedrock on which to build further diplomacy.

But the clock is short for several important reasons. In addition to the interest in rolling back Iran's nuclear efforts and safeguarding inspections before Iran threatens to downgrade them, Iran's own political timeline may be crucial to the entire diplomatic endeavor.

Allowing "maximum pressure" sanctions to remain in place while Iran heads into an election risks repeating the ignominious lesson of the Bush Administration's kneecapping of the last Iranian president to seek rapprochement with the West. When, in 2003, Mohammad Khatami, agreed to suspend Iran's nuclear program, Bush pulled a bait and switch—refusing to negotiate unless the suspension was made permanent. In doing so, the U.S. validated Iranian hardliners and helped usher in the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—a firebrand preaching a new kind of reactionary populism that featured anti-U.S. resistance as the palliative to Khatami's failed attempts at conciliation.

Similarly, Trump's reneging on the nuclear deal and imposition of brutal sanctions has decimated Iran's economy and helped convince the tens of millions of Iranians who delivered a mandate for negotiations in the 2013 presidential elections that engagement was a failed path. Whether Iran elects the next Ahmadinejad or salvages the diplomatic path may in no small part be decided by whether we can get back to the deal in time.

Iran's election may very well be a plebiscite on engagement versus resistance whether we like it or not. It would behoove us to demonstrate that engagement is worthwhile by swiftly returning to our nuclear deal commitments so Iranians see the benefits. While Iran's president is not the ultimate decisionmaker, the popular will and the presidential administration in place are two important poles of influence and were likely essential to the Supreme Leader's decision to back the nuclear talks and resultant agreement. We disregard these factors and pretend Iran has no politics at our own peril.

Finally, there's another important reason Biden can't afford to miss a beat in returning to and implementing the deal swiftly: our own political clock. A recurring theme in Blinken's Secretary of State confirmation hearing was the new administration's avowed interest in restoring Congress' role in foreign policy. If history is any guide, Biden's razor-thin Congressional majorities will not survive the 2022 midterms. If Biden has any real aspiration to lock in the JCPOA or a follow-on deal by putting elements of it up for a Congressional vote, he may only have two years to do so before Republican majorities stocked with presidential aspirants make such an undertaking impossible.

The political window, therefore, is incredibly narrow for both sides. The Biden team has major aspirations not just to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran, but also to address the full spectrum of challenges regarding Iran, including the diplomacy that needs to occur among the key parties in the region to truly address regional instability. It will take swift, resolute action by those who believe in a diplomatic path forward to lay the groundwork and salvage the opportunities before us while there is still time.

Jamal Abdi is president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and the executive director of NIAC Action. He formerly served as policy adviser on foreign affairs, immigration and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York Times, Foreign Policy and CNN and is a frequent guest contributor in print, radio and television.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.