Biden juggles Iran nuke talks as Iranian repression grows

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has hit back at Iran over the government’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protests. He praised the “brave women of Iran” for demanding basic rights and indicated he will announce more sanctions against those responsible for violence against protesters in the coming days.

The outburst of anger – led largely by young women and centered on the male leadership of the government – ​​has created a groundbreaking moment for the country and sparked some of the largest and boldest protests against the country’s Islamist leadership in years.

And while the Biden administration says it is committed to the women of Iran, the president faces a difficult question: can he credibly side with the protest movement while trying to salvage the languishing 2015 Iran nuclear deal that would pump billions into Tehran’s treasury? ?

“The risk of a nuclear Iran is terrifying at all levels,” said Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, director of a network of activists promoting human rights in Iran and a non-resident scholar of the Middle East Institute’s Iran Program. wrote this week in an analysis. “However, President Biden simply cannot hold out the prospect of sanctions easing and de facto legitimize a regime that ruthlessly shoots its own citizens in the streets.”

The week-old protests were triggered by: the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in Iranian security custody. Morals police had arrested Amini last month for failing to properly cover her hair with the Islamic headscarf known as the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

Her death and the ensuing turmoil came at a complicated time as the administration tries to bring Iran back into compliance with the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and scrapped by the Trump administration.

The deal was already teetering on the brink of collapse, despite Biden’s efforts to revive it. But the government has not given up hope for a turnaround through indirect talks with the Iranian leadership. The pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, would provide Tehran billions in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to reduce its nuclear program to the limits set by the 2015 agreement. The deal includes limits on enrichment and how much material it can store, and limits the operation of advanced centrifuges needed for enrichment.

Chances of a return to the deal have come seductively close since early this year, but have been derailed by Iranian demands that the US says are outside the scope of the original agreement. And now the prospects for a resumption of negotiations are bleak, at least until later this fall.

critics of the nuclear deal

argue that the government must abandon any consideration of a renewed agreement. They say the windfall from sanctions Iran would enjoy would be used to further oppress its own people and fund proxies that would exacerbate wider threats in the region.

“The White House is dealing with an internal strategic contradiction: how can you claim to hold the regime responsible for internal repression, while offering that same regime sanctions in Vienna?” said Richard Goldberg, an analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute that focuses on foreign affairs and national security.

But the administration has so far stuck to: Biden’s initial campaign position: A deal with Iran will make the world a safer place. That strong stance creates an unusual split-screen dynamic for Biden, who often speaks of the need to stand firm in the battle between democracies and autocracies.

His government urges to keep nuclear talks with Iran on a separate track – even as he condemns Tehran’s government sell drones to Russia for his war in Ukraine; ongoing attacks on US allies in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria and Iraq; holocaust denial by the President and Supreme Leader of Iran; the unlawful detention of US citizens; and now a brutal attempt to suppress the voices of Iranian women who stand up for basic rights.

“Look, I mean… we have concerns with Iran; we’ve said that before,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said earlier this week. “But the JCPOA is the best way for us to address the nuclear problem we see. As long as we believe that holding JCPOA talks is in the interest of US national security, we will.”

Officials say they are still convinced of the central argument the Obama administration made when negotiating the original nuclear deal in 2015: an Iran with a nuclear weapon is more dangerous than an Iran without one, regardless of the circumstances.

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There have been other moments when pent-up anger has made the Islamic Republic convulse to faint. In 2009, millions of people took to the streets in what was known as the Green Movement after the government declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in a hotly contested presidential election.

Tens of thousands of frustrated Iranians protested in 2017 and 2018 against the country’s stunted economy and the push for greater social freedoms. Hundreds of protesters were killed in protests in late 2019, spurred on by skyrocketing fuel prices and government policies.

But Amini’s death has sparked a degree of outrage that has been sparked reverberations far beyond Iran’s borders. Videos circulated on social media show schoolgirls marching through the streets without hijabs and middle-aged students singing for independence, freedom and death to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The White House says the government has firmly supported the protesters.

Biden spoke of the protesters at the UN General Assembly last month. The United States took swift action last week to impose sanctions on the country’s vice squad and more sanctions are expected in the coming days.

Still, some analysts argue that the government has so far given only a lukewarm response to the crackdown on the demonstrations. The main support the government has given to protesters so far has been: easing restrictions on software and hardware exports to make it easier for Iranians to communicate with each other and the outside world.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said it is time for the government to think bigger.

“The Biden administration must broaden its strategy for Iran to focus not only on countering the Iranian regime’s destructive aspirations, but also on defending the Iranian people’s constructive aspirations to live in a free society at peace with the world,” said Sadjadpour.

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