Joe Biden should drive a hard bargain with the mullahs.
For the past four years Iran’s enemies in the Middle East have had a friend in the White House . President Donald Trump blamed Iran for the region’s problems, sold arms to Israel and Arab states, and pulled America out of the deal that saw Iran limit its nuclear programme and agree to inspections in return for the lifting of international sanctions. In November Mr Trump retweeted news of the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s past nuclear-weapons programme.
再过去的四年里，伊朗在中东的敌人，已经在白宫中有了一个朋友。美国总统特朗普将中东问题归咎于伊朗，并向以色列和阿拉伯国家出售武器，还推动美国退出了伊朗限制本国核计划并同意接受检查以换取解除国际制裁的协议。去年11月份，特朗普转发了伊朗前核武计划的工程师 Mohsen Fakhrizadeh 被暗杀的消息。
The killing appears to have been the work of Israel, which has a history of bumping off Iranian nuclear scientists. With the clock ticking on the Trump administration, it may have been an attempt to scorch the earth before Joe Biden takes over. When it comes to Iran, Mr Biden prefers statecraft to sanctions and talks to targeted killings. He promises to return to the nuclear deal if Iran, which began breaching parts of it last year, moves back into compliance (see Middle East & Africa section).
More diplomacy would certainly be welcome. Mr Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” has hurt Iran by cutting it off from the world economy—but the administration never seriously pursued a new deal. Iran is now closer to a bomb than it was at the start of Mr Trump’s term. Although covert operations may set Iran’s nuclear programme back, negotiations hold out the promise of a more lasting solution. Before Mr Biden jumps back into the nuclear deal, however, he should consider how things have changed since it was signed in 2015.
Start in the Gulf. The region has long lived under an American security umbrella. Yet when Iran carried out a series of attacks, including missile strikes, Mr Trump barely stirred. That not only raised doubts about American deterrence; it also highlighted a flaw in the nuclear deal, which says little about Iran’s missile programme and regional aggression. Such concerns have brought Israel and the Gulf states together. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have normalised relations with Israel, which is also working with Saudi Arabia. As the mullahs step up their nuclear activity, this anti-Iran axis is growing bolder. Israel may be behind several covert attacks inside Iran this year.
Things are also different in Iran. Five years ago Barack Obama’s team dealt with a pragmatic administration there. But the pragmatists have been discredited by the failure of the nuclear deal to bring economic benefits. Hardliners won parliamentary elections this year and one may win the presidential election in June. Iran’s response to the killing of Mr Fakhrizadeh highlights the tug-of-war between the camps. Parliament approved plans to stray further from the nuclear deal and kick out international inspectors. Hassan Rouhani, the relatively moderate president, opposes the bill.
伊朗的情况也与以往不同。五年前奥巴马团队是在和一个务实的政府打交道。但由于核协议未能带来经济效益，这批务实主义者已经名誉扫地。强硬派赢得了今年的议会选举，并且其中一人很可能会赢得明年六月份的总统选举。伊朗对 Fakhrizadeh 被杀的反应凸显了两股势力间的拉锯战。议会批准了进一步偏离核协议的计划，并且驱逐了国际检察员。相对比较温和的总统 Hassan Rouhani 反对该法案。
All this complicates Mr Biden’s effort to turn back the clock. But America’s position has changed, too. The new administration may not like how Mr Trump and his team have handled Iran, but they have bequeathed it an extensive sanctions regime. Iran’s gdp fell by 5.4% in 2018 and 6.5% in 2019, and it is expected to fall again this year. The value of the Iranian rial has collapsed. The annual rate of inflation is around 30%. Although the ruling elite have found ways around sanctions, ordinary people are hurting. Their protests are put down by ruthless security men, but Iran’s clerical rulers are nervous.
所有的这些都使得拜登想逆转历史的努力变得更加复杂。但是美国的立场也同样发生了改变。新的政府可能不会像特朗普团队那样对待伊朗，但他们已经传下了一个广泛的制裁机制。伊朗的GDP在2018年下降了 5.4% ，在2019 年下降了 6.5% ，今年很可能会继续下降。伊朗货币的价值已经崩溃。其年均通胀率在30%左右。尽管统治阶层的精英已经找到了绕过制裁的方法，普通民众依然在水深火热中。他们的抗议被无情的治安人员镇压，但伊朗的宗教统治者却紧张不安。
Were Mr Biden to jump back into the nuclear deal quickly, it would mean lifting the sharpest sanctions and giving up much of this leverage. That would be a mistake. The president-elect says he wants to re-establish trust with America’s allies, but he will do that by negotiating competently, not by rolling over. Although he is unlikely to satisfy Israel, Saudi Arabia or Republicans, he should use his leverage to wring more out of Iran.
Mr Biden’s priority should be to extend the original accord, which expires over the next decade. Iran’s leaders appear open to the suggestion. They are less keen to discuss missiles, Iran’s principal means of deterrence. But Mr Biden should demand that they forswear long-range rocket launches and the transfer of missiles to regional proxies. In return he could gradually ease Iran’s economic pain and throw in sweeteners, such as access to dollars and more civilian nuclear co-operation.
There are steps Mr Biden can take in the meantime to lower tensions with Iran, such as lifting Mr Trump’s more symbolic sanctions. But he should drive a hard bargain with the mullahs. He is in a position to negotiate a broader, longer-lasting deal with Iran. He should take advantage of it.