Iran wants to save JCPOA, just not yet

The Biden administration announced today, Thursday, February 18, 2021, that it is ready to meet with Iran and the other signatories of the JCPOA to find a path to return to 2015 agreement.

This comes after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei earlier this week called on the US to prove its intent to return to the deal using actions, not just words.

There are likely behind-the-scenes discussions going on between the US, Iran, and other countries, regarding how to move forward, and crucially, when.

Although the Rouhani administration will likely accept talks to reimpose the deal, domestic political opponents will likely oppose these efforts, and seek for a way to stall progress until the Rouhani administration leaves office this summer.

Iran desperately needs the US to return to the JCPOA so that international sanctions can be lifted, it finds itself in a domestic political pickle regarding timing. The Rouhani administration leaves office in the summer. However, it has already all but reached lame duck status as its economic policies have been stonewalled by harder-line factions, which oppose his efforts to reign in Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) corruption and its industrial monopolies. As the regime seeks to replace the Rouhani administration with a harder-line one that is more supportive of the IRGC this summer, their plan up to this point has been to justify such a move by showing that Rouhani was too soft on the US and that his economic policies failed to spur significant economic recovery. Therefore, any political victories for his administration, like the JCPOA succeeding to lift sanctions while he is still in office, would undermine that narrative.

That being said, even Rouhani’s domestic opponents would want to salvage the JCPOA, as long as they can take credit for it once Rouhani is out of office. So messages to that effect will likely be delivered to the US and other JCPOA signatories secretly, or at least implied, to preserve these chances, even as hardline Iranian political factions will likely bash the US and the JCPOA in the media quite harshly in the near term as a way to curb domestic Iranian political support for the Rouhani administration.

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Steven Terner

Cultural liaison, international business consultant specializing in the Middle East and Central Asia