World News: The Future of US-Iran Relations and the Implications on the Middle East

In 2015, the United States and Iran, along with several other world powers, reached a landmark deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program. In exchange, Western powers agreed to lift previously imposed economic sanctions and a weapons embargo. Oversight that followed confirmed Iran’s commitment to the deal, and the deal seemed to be working as Western powers intended. On Iran’s side, they were able to access previously frozen funds and the newfound economic freedom spurred economic growth. However, in 2018, President Trump reimposed sanctions, claiming Iran was not honoring their side of the agreement. As a result, the Iranian economy began to lag, foreign investment declined and protests followed. Most concerningly, Iran announced their intention to soon begin reinvigorating their nuclear program and compiling enriched uranium if the agreement wasn’t reestablished.  

Under the leadership of President Biden, the U.S. agenda has changed, and the U.S. and other Western powers now all have the shared interest of an Iran with limited nuclear capabilities. However, resurrecting an agreement that took so long to negotiate in the first place will not be easy. Talks have been occurring between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities once again. Although talks are ongoing, Iran continues to test its nuclear capabilities. For this reason, it’s imperative an agreement is found to stop the escalation of Iran’s nuclear development. The latest round of talks, whose aim is to once again curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities, will take place in Vienna on April 14, between China, Russia, the U.S., the E.U. and Iran.  

There are several factors that play into this delicate situation. Firstly, and possibly most consequentially, there have been the ongoing disturbances in Iran surrounding their nuclear facilities and development. Since the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top military general, in January 2020, negotiations between the West and Iran have aimed chiefly to deescalate tensions. It’s been a slow path towards finding a resolution, but other instances have also proved to be stumbling blocks. Immediately before the U.S. and Iran were set to return to the negotiating table last week, landmines in the Red Sea caused an explosion on an Iranian ship. In addition, a blackout on Sunday at Natanz, Iran’s largest nuclear site, was called a deliberate act of “nuclear terrorism,” by Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. This attack isn’t the first on Natanz, as in July 2020 there was a damaging explosion and fire, one that Iran blamed on foreign sabotage. Inevitably, the involvement of another Middle Eastern power must be discussed to clarify this situation. 

Israel, a traditional U.S. ally, has been grappling with Iran for influence in the region. Benjamin Netanyahu, the (as of now) Prime Minister of Israel, is steadfast in his commitment to stopping any nuclear deal. While Trump was on the same page as Netanyahu, Biden isn’t. What’s interesting about the attack on Natanz is that Israeli media almost immediately reported that it was the Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency) behind the attack. If true, the message from Israel is twofold: 1) Israel intends on maintaining their nuclear superiority in the region and 2) Iran’s nuclear facilities are penetrable, and thus vulnerable. Even if Israel were not behind the attacks, Iranian suspicions, and thus hostility, towards Israel has only been amplified after this recent event. While Netanyahu is staunchly opposed to a revival of the nuclear deal, Israeli officials are committed to their American allies and hopeful that together they can achieve a stable situation in the Middle East. 

Israeli and U.S. interests seem at odds on the surface; however, both countries share a commitment, and a desire, for a non-nuclear Iran. Where they differ is how to achieve that, and only through negotiation will reconciling their differences be possible. Time is of the essence, as inconclusive Israeli elections in March have destabilized the political situation. Most importantly, there is widely corroborated evidence that Iran has already begun contravening their commitments. This is hardly surprising given the nuclear deal doesn’t exist anymore. Nevertheless, the situation in the Middle East is escalating, and a resolution must be found quickly. Only through U.S. leadership and cooperation between great powers can a suitable solution be found for all, and there is hope that this is achievable.