Two-Thirds of Middle East Experts Want Biden to Return to Iran Deal Without Conditions: Poll

President Joe Biden should return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as it exists before opening up negotiations on any other issues with that nation, according to a new survey of experts on the Middle East.

The Middle East Scholar Barometer found that 67 percent of respondents said the foreign policy strategy that was most likely to produce "favorable results" for the U.S. would be Biden returning "immediately" to the current Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) before negotiating any other conditions with Iran. Also in the survey, released Tuesday, 75 percent of experts said the U.S. returning to the deal would reduce the likelihood of Iran getting a nuclear weapon within the next decade.

"That was an overwhelming response," Shibley Telhami, a Mideast scholar and the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, told Newsweek. Telhami developed the survey, which focused on two essential questions about what the U.S. should do regarding its relationship with Iran.

"If you reopen the deal, there are two issues that are problematic," said Telhami, who also serves as a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. A first is that the U.S. would need to unilaterally negotiate the agreement with allies who are already vested in the deal, including some of America's closet European partners.

The second issue concerns the "fear" that ever reaching a deal again would become impossible, said Telhami. He added that postponing the negotiation process opens up the possibility of "military escalation," of which the academic community is largely opposed. Only 1 percent of those surveyed supported military action against Iran.

Iran Deal
Most Middle East experts say the U.S. should rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran without conditions, according to a new survey. Above, Iranians burn a U.S. flag during while marking the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran on February 10. STR/AFP via Getty Images

The survey was conducted from February 8 to 15 as a joint project between the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, which Telhami directs, and the Project on Middle East Political Science at George Washington University. A non-random sample of 521 experts participated, providing perspective on how their opinions on current approaches to Middle East policy compare.

All experts were members of either the Middle East Studies Association or the Middle East and North Africa section of the American Political Science Association, two of the leading academic groups on the study of the Middle East.

A new barometer of Middle East scholars from American academia shows the majority of 521 respondents believe the two-state solution is dead and the current reality in Israel-Palestine is akin to Apartheid now and more so in the future. From @ShibleyTelhami & @abuaardvark

— Omar H. Rahman (@omarrahman) February 16, 2021

Rejoining the JCPOA also means lifting sanctions on Iran. Former President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran under his maximum pressure campaign. These included secondary sanctions on global companies that do business with Iran, Telhami noted.

Only 4 percent of the respondents were in favor of continuing the maximum pressure strategy, which Telhami said harmfully affects the people of Iran more than the country's nuclear program.

Iranian leaders have proudly declared Trump's failure to create an alternative deal as a victory. Iran resumed enriching uranium in January, a direct violation of the JCPOA's terms.

Biden said during his campaign he intended to rejoin the JCPOA, but he said he wouldn't lift sanctions and enter back into the agreement until Iran stops its enrichment practices.

"No," was Biden's one-syllable answer when asked on CBS Evening News earlier this month whether the U.S. would lift sanctions first in order to pull Iran back to the negotiation table on the JCPOA. Biden confirmed in the interview that Iran would need to first stop enriching uranium before the U.S. would consider talks on the deal.

"You're running against a clock," Telhami said. He added that it's difficult to tell if Iran has enough enriched uranium to develop a nuclear weapon, so time is of the essence for Biden to reach an agreement.

But the prolonged standoff between the Washington and Tehran has only pushed China and Russia closer to Iran, which is currently seeking global allies to relieve its crumbling economic and humanitarian conditions. China and Russia, who have agreed to the JCPOA, have asked Biden to rejoin the deal without demanding conditions.

Telahmi said it's not yet clear whether Biden will seek additional conditions before re-entering the agreement: "While he has said he would return to the deal as it stands, there's been some language that suggested that some negotiations may be in order."