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Washington doublethink and the Iran deal

The Biden administration ought to take home the gold in the George Orwell Olympics for considering Ebrahim Raisi’s election an opportunity for a swift return to the JCPOA.

A room in the Blue Salon at the Palais Coburg Hotel in Vienna, the site of past and present nuclear negotiations, July 4, 2015. Credit: U.S. State Department.
A room in the Blue Salon at the Palais Coburg Hotel in Vienna, the site of past and present nuclear negotiations, July 4, 2015. Credit: U.S. State Department.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

The administration in Washington outdid itself in doublethink this week. Faced with the election of mass executioner Ebrahim Raisi to the Iranian presidency, top White House aides and media champions put such a spin on the situation that they ought to take home the gold in the George Orwell Olympics.

To counter the problem presented by Raisi’s record as a sadist who commanded the torture and murder of masses of innocent Iranians, members of and apologists for Team Biden told The New York Times over the weekend that the “ascension of a hardline government” might actually constitute a window of opportunity to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.

The logic behind the delusion is that Raisi, who announced on Saturday that neither Iran’s ballistic-missile program nor its support for regional militias would be up for negotiation, won’t be replacing incumbent Hassan Rouhani for six weeks, supposedly just enough time for all parties to the JCPOA to iron out any remaining differences and sign on the dotted line.

Furthermore, according to the Times, if a final deal is reached before Raisi takes the reins, “Iran’s moderates would be set up to take the blame for capitulating to the West and bear the brunt of popular anger inside Iran if sanctions relief does not rescue the nation’s stricken economy. But if the deal comes together, the new conservative government under Mr. Raisi can take the credit for an economic upswing, bolstering his case that it took a hardline, nationalist government to stand up to Washington and bring the country back.”

This is an astonishing view for three reasons.

First, Biden and his administration have been hot to trot back to the JCPOA from the get-go, despite claims of playing hard to get. One way that they’ve kept up the pretense is to engage in European Union-sponsored negotiations in the Austrian capital, referring to them as “indirect talks” and conducting them through shuttle diplomacy between rooms in a Viennese hotel.

Never mind that American diplomats would have been happy to meet face to face with their Iranian counterparts, but surprise, surprise: Tehran nixed that option off the bat. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his underling mullahs are well-versed in U.S. Democrats’ penchant for appeasement and willful blindness where the JCPOA is concerned, after all. And making a post-Trump America grovel before it lifts sanctions and enables Iran to fund the enrichment of nuclear-bomb-grade uranium is what the regime is seeking.

Second, Rouhani is no “moderate,” whether or not he has less blood on his hands than Raisi. A longtime loyalist of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he has always backed and spearheaded the quelling of popular protests, employing any bloody means to nip them in the bud. The only real difference between him and his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—and now his successor, Raisi—is and has been in his grasp of how to achieve Iran’s objectives by being palatable to the West.

Aware of the facade, his distraught eldest son killed himself in 1992, writing in an accusatory suicide note: “I hate your government, your lies, your corruption, your religion, your double-dealing and your hypocrisy. I am ashamed to live in an environment in which I am forced to lie to my friends every day and tell them that my father is not part of all this—to tell them that my father loves the nation and to know that the reality is far from this. I get nauseated when I see you, father, kissing Khamenei’s hand.”

Nor was Rouhani’s selection to serve as the regime’s chief nuclear negotiator accidental. Addressing Iran’s Supreme Cultural Revolution Council in September 2005, he explained the pragmatic purpose in being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the Isfahan facility. By creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work,” he said.

In his speech to the Iranian public upon completion of the JCPOA 10 years later, he stated: “We aspired to achieve four goals: The first was to continue the nuclear capabilities, the nuclear technology and even the nuclear activity. The second was to remove the mistaken, oppressive and inhuman sanctions. The third was to remove the [U.N.] Security Council resolutions that we see as illegitimate. The fourth was to remove the nuclear dossier from Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter and the Security Council in general. All four goals have been achieved today.”

He later referred to Israel’s warnings about the deal, declaring, “The people in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Lebanon are happy, too, because the hollow efforts of the oppressive Zionist regime to thwart the negotiations … have failed.”

Third, it is not the president in Iran who calls the shots, but rather the supreme leader. Moreover, it was Khamenei who rigged his protégé Raisi’s so-called “landslide victory” in the first place.

This means that any agreement signed with Iran, now or later, will require Khamenei’s approval. And that won’t be forthcoming unless the deal is as bad for the United States and Israel as the original JCPOA, or worse.

Not that it matters. Iran violated the JCPOA from the outset and will continue to do so, whatever the name of the next phony document forged by Western fantasists.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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