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Assassination in Iran Threatens Fate of Nuclear Deal

  • November 29, 2020

“The Trump administration’s goal seems plain,” said Robert Malley, who leads the International Crisis Group and was a negotiator of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The administration’s plan, he said, was “to take advantage of the time remaining before it heads to the exits to solidify its legacy and make it all the more difficult for its successor to resume diplomacy with Iran and rejoin the nuclear deal.”

Mr. Malley expressed doubts that “it will in fact succeed in killing diplomacy” or the deal.

“The center of gravity in Iran is still with those who want to wait until Biden is president,’’ said Mr. Malley, who has known Mr. Biden’s pick for secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, since they attended high school together in Paris.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken have made clear that returning to the deal Mr. Trump pulled out of is one of their first objectives in the Middle East.

But as Jake Sullivan, the newly appointed national security adviser, who served as one of the secret emissaries to begin the negotiations that led to the deal, put it on Wednesday at an event at the University of Minnesota, “that’s really up to Iran.”

“If Iran returns to compliance, for its obligations that it has been violating, and is prepared to advance good-faith negotiations on these follow-on agreements,” Mr. Biden is willing to do the same, he said. (While Mr. Biden supported the 2015 deal, he was also in on the decision-making in 2010 as the cyberstrike against Natanz unraveled.)

Before the assassination, there was considerable evidence that the Iranians were laying low, avoiding provocations that might give Mr. Trump a pretense to strike before he leaves office. Iran’s leaders have made clear that regime survival is their No. 1 goal, and they have been careful not to take risks that could upend their hopes of lifting sanctions, and restoring the deal, after Mr. Trump’s term ends.

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