Soon-to-be President Biden should not waste his time on restoring a nuclear deal with Iran. The mullahs will be given an inch, but will take a mile, warns Donald Forbes

Sooner or later, Iran is going to produce nuclear weapons if the mullahs remain in power and there is nothing the West can do to prevent it.

This was the logic behind the lopsided Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that Barack Obama made with Iran in 2015, from which Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 and which Joe Biden intends to rejoin.

The Obama terms were highly favourable to the theocratic regime. He gave Iran the right to become a nuclear power after 2025 and lifted sanctions which were crippling its economy and the mullahs' credibility, though not their hold on power.

Implicit in the Obama strategy was his belief that the regime was secure for the foreseeable future and that the best the West could hope for was to buy time and hope that Tehran could be lured into a co-existential relationship with Washington.

Obama believed this long before he conceded the sweetheart deal that provided economic oxygen for Iran and was backed by the UK, France, Germany. Russia and China. Given the chance of supporting the 2009 Green Revolution in Tehran against Islamic rule, Obama looked away.

He counted on the mullahs keeping their grip and reaching nuclear capability because their underground development sites were immune to air attacks that could guarantee their destruction. George Bush's war in Iraq meant also that Iran was safe from land invasion. No one wants another self-inflicted disaster like Iraq.

Obama's policy, far from weakening Iran, anticipated that it would become the dominant power in the Middle East despite the fact that Shia Iran is hated and distrusted by Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.

Quite apart from the different problems for the Middle East that an alliance between the United States and Iran would pose, the policy contained the contradiction that Obama, the foe of nuclear proliferation, risked enabling it. Saudi Arabia and Egypt would not watch Iran gain a nuclear advantage over them and do nothing.

This is still the state of play as Biden prepares to revive the Obama deal, egged on by the Europeans and cutting short Trump's strategy of strangling the Iranian economy through sanctions.

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The new president's first hurdle is that the deal cannot simply be un-revoked as he and his advisors have made clear in carefully hedged statements.

Biden and his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have said Iran must return to the uranium enrichment limits of the original agreement which it has long since exceeded. Iran is expected to resist such a concession although for the sake of sanctions relief it could agree in part and cheat in the belief that the West would ignore its behaviour.

Ballistic missiles were not included in the 2015 agreement but Iran has been expanding its capability in this area also. Given the concerns of Teheran's neighbours, Biden might also feel compelled to include the missiles in his next negotiations with the mullahs.

Whether he likes it or not, so much has changed since 2015 that Biden will effectively be obliged to reach a new, significantly up-dated treaty with Iran that will be as difficult and time-consuming to achieve as its predecessor.

The contest is between the West's desperation to get another deal versus the regime's ability to keep control of its people who have suffered badly from Covid as well as the restored Trump sanctions. Apart from the politico-economic repercussions of these, they have also limited the mullahs' ability to serve their clients in Syria and Hezbollah.

Obama did not even try to get his 2015 agreement through the senate where Democrats as well as Republicans were opposed. Biden will be in the same position but complicated by the fact that Iran is a proven cheat and not to be trusted to keep its bargains.

The West has struggled with the lack of a military solution to Iran's nuclear maneuvering for most of the last two decades and has resorted to alternative solutions. A highly damaging attack on Iranian centrifuges in 2007 by the computer virus Stuxnet was attributed to the US and Israel jointly.

Israel was blamed for the assassination of four Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010, most recently that last November of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the head of the programme and a Revolutionary Guards general. But attacks like these merely cause delay which the Iranians will eventually overcome.

Israel is usually thought to have most at stake from a nuclear Iran which vows its destruction. In fact, Israel which has its own nuclear arsenal has little to fear unless the mullahs become suicidal. Hezbollah's Iranian-supplied rockets in Lebanon are a serious threat but Israel would turn Tehran into ash in retaliation if its existence were threatened.

The real danger would be from the change to the Middle East balance if the US abandoned its current allies in favour of Iran, as Obama wanted.

Iran equipped with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles would have enormous blackmail power over Europe as well as its neighbours. This makes the Europeans' enthusiasm for a renewed deal with unreliable Iran all the stranger. Our best guarantee would be regime change in Tehran. Perhaps even tighten the sanctions further.

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