Joe Biden Would Give In to 'Nuclear Blackmail' by Re-Entering Iran Deal, Reza Pahlavi Says

President Joe Biden would be giving in to "nuclear blackmail" by rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran, according to the son of the former shah of the country deposed in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Reza Pahlavi, who now lives in the U.S., from where he advocates for Iran's transition to a liberal democracy, told Newsweek in an interview that it would be a "grave error" for Biden to rejoin the JCPOA, even though its supporters and signatories argue it is the only realistic way to restrain Tehran's nuclear program.

Biden and his top officials have been clear in their desire to resurrect the agreement. It was signed in 2015 by former President Barack Obama and current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, lifting crippling international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on Iran's nuclear program.

Critics, former President Donald Trump included, argued the deal was inadequate. Its nuclear restrictions were set to expire in 2025 and the accord did nothing to constrain Iran's ballistic missile program and its use of regional proxy militias. Even if Iran could be trusted not to run a secret nuclear program, skeptics said, these flaws made the deal unfit for purpose.

The U.S. only remained in the deal for three years. Trump withdrew from what he called a "horrible, laughable" agreement in 2018, beginning a "maximum pressure" campaign designed to isolate and strangle Tehran. But the regime survived economic pain and popular unrest, even with the additional turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic.

The two sides narrowly avoided war as Iran moved away from compliance with the deal after Trump's withdrawal, the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani and the killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Biden's election now offers hope of a diplomatic thaw, though the two sides must first overcome a negotiating stalemate. The White House wants Iranian compliance before sanctions relief. Tehran wants the reverse. The two sides remain some way apart, but there at least is a desire to deal.

But for Pahlavi and other regime critics, reviving the deal might be worse than the uncertainty of letting it die.

"The decision by the administration to show its hand before it even came to office has caused the regime to scurry to increase the magnitude of its threat with more and higher enrichment of a nuclear bomb's primary material," Pahlavi told Newsweek, referring to measures passed by Iran's parliament in retaliation for Fakhrizadeh's killing on a country road outside Tehran in November.

"Critical components of the deal have lapsed and more will soon," Pahlavi said. "If it had questionable worth in 2015, it is clearly a bad deal in 2021. The United States should not give in to nuclear blackmail."

Desperation is not advisable in any negotiation. Biden may not be desperate, but he is not hiding his goal. He has also sought to allay concerns of JCPOA critics by framing the agreement as a foundation for a "longer and stronger" deal covering missiles, proxies and other issues in future.

For Iran, Biden's enthusiasm could be an opportunity. "The United States will concede as much as in the original JCPOA, for a new one worth much less," Pahlavi predicted. "The administration insists it will build on this to address other issues. With what leverage?"

Tehran is desperate, Pahlavi said. The regime has been forced to suppress protests large and small, driven by a range of grievances including stubbornly low living standards, taxes on key goods, and corruption. In 2019, the State Department said security forces killed some 1,500 people in suppressing protests sparked by a new fuel tax.

American sanctions have turned the screws, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordering his officials to nullify the measures rather than just working to have them lifted.

Other Iranian dissidents have urged Biden to use his leverage to chart a new path on Iran, rather than returning to the old deal. Sanctions relief, they argue, won't help Iranian.

"The Iranian people will continue to suffer under corruption, incompetence, and brute repression," Pahlavi said. "If the regime really cared about Iranians it would stop funding the bombs used to kill Syrian children and it would buy bread for Iranians."

Iranian leaders have proudly declared Trump's maximum pressure campaign a failure. The former president certainly did not deliver on his promise of a new, tougher nuclear deal with Iran. Still, his administration badly hurt the Iranian economy, cut vital exports and built a strong anti-Iran regional axis.

But the former president failed to engage Iranians, Pahlavi said. "The maximum pressure campaign successfully weakened the regime, but it was incomplete because it was not accompanied by maximum support, or direct solidarity with the Iranian people in their democratic movement."

Those Iranians have suffered under years of international and American sanctions. Warm words of support from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others will have meant little to those struggling to survive. But Pahlavi and other regime critics argue that the only way to truly help Iranians is to remove the regime oppressing them.

"After 42 years of governing beliefs from the Dark Ages, the Iranian people know who is responsible for the evisceration of their standard of living and their most basic social and political freedoms," he said.

"Their aim is liberation from this apartheid regime. [Nelson] Mandela understood this when he asked the world's democracies to sanction South Africa's own apartheid regime and remarked that victory would only be achieved as a result of struggle, including the struggle represented by the international sanctions campaign."

Pahlavi is an influential figure in the Iranian diaspora, but for many his family's name will be forever associated with oppression. His father, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, oversaw widespread suppression of political opponents spearheaded by the infamous SAVAK secret police.

The shah fled in the face of a popular revolution, supported by individuals and groups from across the Iranian political spectrum, even if Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers eventually came out on top.

Iranians yearning for a free future may not wish to listen to a symbol of their oppressive past. "Judgement is up to history and the Iranian people," Pahlavi said. "If you listen to their chants on the streets of the country about my family, you will get a sense of what they think," he added, referring to some pro-monarchy slogans chanted at demonstrations in recent years.

Pahlavi is working from abroad to organize Iranian civil society and create a blueprint for a peaceful, democratic transition to a genuine democracy. Pahlavi says he is not personally interested in any leadership role for Iranians, but rather "being their advocate, on their side, vis a vis the future responsible authorities."

"I have no personal ambition, which is why many Iranians listen to and trust me," Pahlavi said. "If I symbolize something to my compatriots, it is not about a return to the past, it is about the future. It is a vision for a different and better future."

Iran's Reza Pahlavi pictured in Washington, DC
Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former shah of Iran, has warned it would be a "grave" mistake for President Joe Biden to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. The Media Relations Team of Reza Pahlavi