Iran Says Missiles, Foreign Activity off the Table in Future Biden Negotiations

One of President-elect Joe Biden's flagship foreign policy proposals is to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, abandoned by President Donald Trump in 2018.

The deal has become symbolic of the split in American politics regarding how to deal with Iran—confrontation versus negotiation, conflict versus dialogue. For Trump, undoing President Barack Obama's work is something of an obsession. For Biden, restoring one of his former running mate's key achievements is a key goal.

Trump vowed his "maximum pressure" campaign would force Tehran back to the table to negotiate a stricter nuclear deal. But though his administration has crippled Iran's economy, the regime has so far resisted, refusing to deal with Trump and waiting to see what relief a Biden presidency might bring.

Biden may want to rejoin the JCPOA, but first Iran would have to return to compliance. Tehran had been violating the accord piecemeal since Trump's withdrawal, and in January declared it would no longer abide by any elements after the U.S. assassinated Major General Qassem Soleiamani in Baghdad.

Iran now has 12 times the low-enriched uranium allowed under the JCPOA, and is spooling up its uranium enrichment capacities. Tehran has said it is willing to cut back to what is allowed under the JCPOA if the U.S. resumes compliance, but Iran-skeptics in the U.S., Europe and Israel won't take this at face value.

Biden—like Trump and many American officials—has suggested he wants to include Iran's ballistic missile program and regional network of proxies in any future deal.

Iran's ballistic missiles can threaten U.S. and allied interests across the region and one day may be able to send nuclear missiles to targets more than a thousand miles away.

And Iran's proxies—whether in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon or further afield—are key in pushing Tehran's policies abroad, expanding its influence and allowing it to strike adversaries like Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

But Iranian officials are getting ahead of any Biden talks, indicating they will not consider including missiles or foreign activities in any new deal with the incoming administration.

Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan—an adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and tipped to run for president in June—told The Associated Press Thursday that Tehran will not give up its missiles.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran will not negotiate its defensive power... with anybody under any circumstances," Dehghan said. "Missiles are a symbol of the massive potential that is in our experts, young people and industrial centres."

The head of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—where Dehghan served—meanwhile, said Iran's foreign operations will continue. Major General Hossein Salami said that Iran would conduct operations against enemies regardless of where they may be, according to the Mehr News Agency.

"If anybody seeks to threaten the interests of this great nation and country, they will definitely find no safe spot on Earth," Salami said. The major general recently vowed to avenge Soleimani's killing "in the field."

Iran, Biden, missile, proxies, JCPOA, IRGC, talks
A handout picture provided by the Iranian Army official website on September 10, 2020, shows an Iranian Shalamcheh missile being fired during a military exercise in the Gulf, near the strategic strait of Hormuz in southern Iran. Iranian Army office/AFP via Getty Images/Getty