Joe Biden and Iran's 'Holy Grail': Bolton Slams Washington's 'Religious Pursuit' of New Nuclear Deal
14:10 GMT 09.02.2022 (Updated: 14:24 GMT 09.02.2022)
© AP Photo / Andrew HarnikNational Security Adviser John Bolton attends a meeting with President Donald Trump as he meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019
© AP Photo / Andrew Harnik
The US and the remaining signatories to the old nuclear deal are currently trying to find a way to restore the accord that limited Iran's nuclear activities. Progress has been slow, with Washington warning that the window of opportunity is closing rapidly. One of the main issues is America's inability to guarantee it won't ditch the deal again.
Former US National Security Adviser John Bolton has criticised the ongoing efforts by the Biden administration to strike a new nuclear agreement with Iran accusing it of being in "religious pursuit" of success.
In an interview with Newsweek, the main critic of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the Trump administration, argued that Biden is ready to "accept almost anything" only to sign the new deal, which, as Bolton claims, will do nothing to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon. Tehran itself has repeatedly stressed that it does not seek one.
"The Biden administration has prostrated itself for the past year to try and revive this deal and they've made one concession after another. Their focus on getting the deal resurrected has been obsessive [...] They're willing to do almost anything to put the deal back in place. This is the Holy Grail and they want to be able to say they have revived the JCPOA", Bolton said in his interview with Newsweek.
Bolton further dismissed the White House's attempts to threaten Iran with a harsh response, including possible military action, if the new nuclear deal is not signed. While several earlier media reports suggested that the US and Israel were discussing plans to strike Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent Tehran from building nukes, the former national security adviser rushed to paint the Biden administration as a paper tiger that would not frighten Iran.
"I don't think it's really on their radar screen. I think this is another, unfortunately, hollow threat [...] I don't think it affects the Iranian assessment of where things are here. I don't think they fear it".
The ex-NSA adviser pointed to the alleged violations of sanctions slapped on Iran by President Donald Trump by Chinese companies, some of which purportedly continued to buy oil from the Islamic Republic. Bolton argued that the Biden administration not acting on these violations "tells people that we're not serious".
His views were challenged by a US State Department spokesperson, who told Newsweek that the Pentagon and current National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan carried out a briefing during which they discussed the "full set of military options available" to ensure Iran does not build nuclear weapons.
The spokesperson also debunked Bolton's claims about not enforcing US sanctions, saying that the Department of State is aware of all the violations and has responded to the evasion of santions, additionally noting that they have engaged in a dialogue with China to ensure future enforcement when and if the JCPOA is restored.
New JCPOA is Not the Answer?
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton has insisted that restoring the JCPOA will do nothing to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear weapon and defended the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the accord in 2018. He noted that the only thing that was not done properly in his view is that the Republican president did not follow the move up with efforts to destabilise and overthrow the current regime in Tehran – Bolton's long-time dream.
The current administration disagrees with Bolton's viewpoint, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in December 2021 calling Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA "one of the worst decisions made in American foreign policy in the last decade". In a separate interview with Newsweek, an anonymous State Department official further criticised Bolton's statements, pointing out the "abject failure" of Trump's policy towards Iran.
"Across the board, everything that the 'maximum pressure' strategy promised and that its cheap purveyors promised the American people, not only did it not come about, but the opposite actually came about", the source said.
Trump insisted that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was flawed and withdrew from it in May 2018 promising to negotiate a better deal – something that Tehran refused to even consider as long as new US sanctions remained in place. A year after America's withdrawal Tehran announced that it would be gradually scaling back on its JCPOA commitments since it was no longer profiting from the international sanctions relief spelled out in the deal.
In the year following the May 2019 announcement Tehran breached the limits on nuclear fuel stockpiles, exceeded the 3.67% ceiling on the level of uranium enrichment, and launched new improved centrifuges instead of the first-generation devices allowed by the accord. By November 2019 Iran was enriching uranium to 5% and continued to increase that number. In June 2021, the Iranian Parliament reported that the country had produced 108 kilogrammes of 20%-enriched uranium.
Trump's 2018 withdrawal from the JCPOA also incurred other negative effects for the US and its allies, the source in the Department of State claimed in the conversation with Newsweek.
"We heard that maximum pressure would cow Tehran and its proxies into submission. In fact, both are emboldened. Before maximum pressure, you did not see our partners and even American forces in the region coming under fire. You've seen that now since 2018", the source claimed.
Now the Biden administration along with Iran and the remaining signatories to the JCPOA are trying to negotiate a return to compliance with the accord in Vienna. So far, several rounds of talks have proved largely fruitless for several reasons. The US is trying to include Iran's ballistic missile programme in the new agreement and refuses to guarantee the lifting of all sanctions, such as those imposed on the Islamic Republic over its alleged negative influence on the stability of the region via proxy groups.
Tehran insists on returning to the same deal that was originally negotiated in 2015 and the lifting of all sanctions hampering its economy. Negotiators from the Islamic Republic, however, are also demanding guarantees that future US administrations will not exit the deal the same way Trump did – a scenario that Bolton did not rule out in the interview with Newsweek in the event a Republican once again occupies the Oval Office. The American negotiators called this Iranian demand impossible to implement, thus further stalling the talks.