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Former US envoy to Israel predicts Biden will reenter Iran nuclear deal

But Daniel Kurtzer anticipates Washington will talk to Jerusalem before rejoining 2015 pact; Iran’s Rouhani urges president-elect to bring US back into agreement

Former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer at Princeton University, February 1, 2011 (AP/Mel Evans)
Former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer at Princeton University, February 1, 2011 (AP/Mel Evans)

Former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer predicted Sunday that US President-elect Joe Biden will reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration, though not without consulting Israel first.

His remarks came as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani urged Biden to bring the US back into the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“My guess is that the Biden administration will want to find a way to go back in,” Kurtzer told Army Radio. “I think they’ll talk to Israel about it before they do anything. But there will be a very significant interest in resuming that kind of an arrangement that stops the Iranian program and stops the enrichment of uranium.”

One of US President Donald Trump’s signature foreign policy moves was unilaterally withdrawing in 2018 from the nuclear deal, which had seen Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The US has since reimposed punishing sanctions on Iran that have crippled its economy, which was further battered by the coronavirus outbreak. In an effort to pressure Europe to find a way around the sanctions, Iran has gradually abandoned its commitments to the nuclear deal. Trump wants to renegotiate stricter terms to the deal, whereas Iran has said it will only talk if the US first lifts its refreshed sanctions.

Kurtzer, who was ambassador to Israel in 2001-2005 under the Bush administration, praised the deal for its capacity to stop the Iranian nuclear development program.

“During the three years when it was in effect, the Iranian program was stopped dead in its tracks, and then it restarted after the Trump administration pulled out of the deal,” he said.

Kurtzer described Biden as “a very longtime supporter of Israel and of Israel’s security and wellbeing.”

“He has a very long relationship with the prime minister and with most senior officials,” Kurtzer said. “He genuinely likes Israel and I think we’re going to see an administration that tries to build on a strong relationship to make it even deeper and better.

“Of course there are always some issues on which we will disagree,” he continued. “I think [the] Iran nuclear program may be one of those. But I would anticipate that President-elect Biden will try to talk very seriously about this with the prime minister rather than doing anything unilaterally. I think we’ll get into very deep strategic dialogue on some of the issues where we disagree.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, November 8, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iran’s Rouhani, meanwhile, called on Biden to “compensate for past mistakes” and return the US to the nuclear deal with world powers, a state-run news agency reported Sunday.

Rouhani’s comments were the highest-level response from Iran to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris clinching the November 3 election.

“Now, an opportunity has come up for the next US administration to compensate for past mistakes and return to the path of complying with international agreements through respect of international norms,” the state-run IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

This US “administration’s harmful and wrong policy for the past three years was not only condemned by people all around the world, but was also opposed by the people of (the US) in the recent election,” Rouhani said.

Under Trump, tensions between the US and Iran escalated, reaching a fever pitch earlier this year.

“The people of Iran, though their heroic resistance against the imposed economic war, proved that the US maximum pressure policy was doomed to fail,” Rouhani said. He added that Iran “considers constructive engagement with the world as a strategy.”

US President-elect Joe Biden, right, on stage with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, in Wilmington, Delaware, November 7, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last Tuesday that the US election result would have “no effect” on Tehran’s policies toward Washington.

Biden has said during his campaign that he plans to embark on a “credible path to return to diplomacy” with Iran, and raised the possibility of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, negotiated when he was vice president under Barack Obama.

‘Deeds matter most’

Iran’s top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Sunday on Twitter that “the world is watching” to see whether the new US administration “will abandon disastrous lawless bullying of outgoing regime and accept multilateralism, cooperation & respect for law.”

“Deeds matter most,” he added.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, November 5, 2020. (Matias Delacroix/AP)

Most of Iran’s daily newspapers reported Biden’s victory on their front pages with pictures of him and Trump.

The conservative Resalat paper wrote that “the unmasked enemy left, the masked enemy arrived,” echoing the official line that US policies will not fundamentally change with presidents.

The ultra-conservative Vatan-e Emrooz focused on Trump’s allegations of fraud in the election, in a report titled “The graveyard of democracy,” featuring a cartoon Biden sneaking away with a ballot in a skeleton’s hand.

“The complaining president!” reformist Arman-e Melli wrote, while the mainstream Hamshahri daily said, “It’s over: the age of Trump came to an end after four days of uncertainty.”

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