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For Biden, Iranian Hard-liner May Be Best Path to Restoring Nuclear Deal

  • June 20, 2021

So, for weeks now, a team led by Robert Malley, the State Department’s special envoy for Iran, whose ties to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken go back to high school, has been shuttling to Vienna to try to resurrect the agreement that he, Mr. Blinken and others negotiated in 2015.

“We’ve seen the result of the maximum pressure campaign,’’ Mr. Malley said in April. “It has failed.”

People inside the negotiations say there have been two major obstacles that could still derail Mr. Biden’s effort to restore the deal. And both prove the adage that in diplomacy, as in life, there’s no real going home.

The Iranians have demanded a written commitment that no future American government could scrap the deal as Mr. Trump did. They want something permanent — “a reasonable-sounding demand,” in the words of one senior American official, “that no real democracy can make.”

The accord, after all, is not a treaty, because Mr. Biden, like President Barack Obama before him, could never have gotten the consent of two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. So it is termed an “executive agreement” that any future president could reverse, just as Mr. Trump did.

But the Biden administration, fully aware of the shortcomings of the original 2015 deal, has a demand as well. It wants Iran to agree, in writing, to return to the negotiating table as soon as the old deal is restored and begin hammering out the terms of a bigger agreement that is, in the words of Mr. Blinken, “longer and stronger.”

Mr. Blinken’s phrase acknowledges that critics of the six-year-old agreement have a point when they attack the accord for essentially expiring in nine years. Under the current terms, in 2030 Iran will be free to make as much nuclear fuel as it wants — meaning that even if it does not build a bomb, it will have the stockpile of fuel around to produce one fairly quickly.

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