Iran is Hoping for Biden Return to Nuclear Deal—But Trust Will Be Hard to Rebuild | Analysis

Washington and Tehran's decades-long tensions took a brief break in 2015 with the advent of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a milestone nuclear agreement involving both the United States and Iran, as well as China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Forged under President Barack Obama, it was vehemently opposed by Donald Trump as a private citizen, a candidate, and then as president, when he left the accord in 2018. Ever since, the U.S.-Iran relationship has been defined by unrest across the Persian Gulf and deadly tensions in the Middle East, with an impasse at attempts to rekindle diplomacy with Iran.

While the Trump administration has repeatedly said its door was open for talks, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has insisted that the U.S. must first return to the nuclear deal and lift its unilateral sanctions. That, almost certainly, will not happen in a second Trump term.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who was Obama tasked to help sell the JCPOA to skeptical Republicans, has vowed to return to the agreement, while still actively opposing Iran's support for foreign militias and its pursuit of advanced ballistic missile technology.

But some Trump administration actions are irreversible.

Perhaps the most significant is the U.S. killing of iconic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani, which some Iranian officials compare to the infamous CIA-backed coup that reinstalled the shah's absolute monarchy in 1953, an event that helped fuel the 1979 Islamic Revolution and subsequent U.S. embassy hostage crisis.

A U.S. largely isolated among the international community in its support for heavy economic restrictions against Iran has far less leverage than it did under Obama, whose multilateral approach was embraced by most nations, with the notable exceptions of Israel and Arab Sunni Muslim monarchies like Saudi Arabia.

In a televised address Tuesday, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei mocked Trump's remarks toward the U.S. vote, referencing the incumbent's characterization of the contest as "the most-rigged U.S. election throughout history."

Khamenei said that, "no matter who wins the U.S. election, it won't affect our policy toward the U.S."

"The U.S. regime suffers from severe political, civil, and moral deviations," Iran's top authority said. "This is what their own analysts say. Such a regime won't last long. Of course, if certain people hold office, they speed up its destruction, while with others it may take a little longer."

Iranian officials have also told Newsweek that their country remains neutral in the election and that, even if in the event of a Democratic victory, the winner would likely face an intensive effort to adopt more hawkish views against the Islamic Republic.

Ultimately, they saw a need for faithful implementation of the JCPOA to rebuild trust broken by Trump's exit.

This trust may be hard to earn, however, as Iran is set to hold its own national elections next June, giving Biden only months before Rouhani's second term ends and a newcomer takes his place.

All indications are that the Trump administration's foreign policy has fueled a strong aversion to dealing with the West among increasingly influential Iranian hardliners. While Biden may be Iran's best bet to stabilize the soaring tensions between the two countries, a return to the pre-Trump status quo is unlikely and an even more difficult path to detente may lie ahead.

On balance, a Biden presidency would appear to offer Iran the best chance for a reinvigorated JCPOA, with the return of the U.S. to the treaty, and a path back to greater participation in the world economy.