US Expects Iran To Prepare For Talks With Biden Not Plot Attacks In Trump’s Final Days
President Trump’s administration expects Iran to avoid attacking Americans in the near future as the regime prepares for an expected negotiation with President-elect Joe Biden later this year.
“Iran is trying to pile up chips for a negotiation with the Biden administration,” a senior administration official told the Washington Examiner. “Of course, that’s our hope, that they recognize that they would be making a negotiation impossible, or extremely difficult, should they kill any Americans.”
The fallout from the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday has stoked unease that American adversaries might feel emboldened to strike at a moment of domestic chaos, but current and former Trump administration officials believe that the U.S. military and Tehran’s optimism about talks with Biden will combine to restrain them.
“If Iran thought that what they’re seeing meant they had an opportunity to do something, it would be a catastrophic mistake on their part,” said Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior adviser Richard Goldberg, the White House National Security Council’s director countering Iran’s nuclear weapons program in 2019. “But also, it would be out of line with their current strategy, which appears to be escalating a crisis environment, so they are a high priority for sanctions relief — potentially when the Biden administration comes into office.”
A tactical dance has unfolded between Trump’s team and Iranian officials in recent years, such as Tehran using proxy forces to threaten U.S. personnel in Iraq, while the United States raises the daunting specter of retaliation if any Americans die as a result of Iranian aggression. That process continued with a pair of provocations from Iran: the seizure of a South Korean oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and a vote in Iran’s Parliament to begin enriching uranium up to 20%.
“The message from the United States has been clear … that we’re prepared to deal with any attacks,” the senior administration official said. “But obviously, the hope is that they will recognize that their strategic interest is not served by attacking us.”
The latest violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal drew condemnation from European leaders, who aired their own misgivings that Tehran would preclude the restoration of the pact that Western European allies credit with defusing a nuclear crisis.
“Such a move would jeopardize our shared efforts to preserve the JCPoA and risks compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US Administration,” the governments of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said Wednesday in a joint statement, using the official acronym for the deal. “A return to the JCPoA would also be beneficial for Iran.”
The seizure of the oil tanker is a display of Iran’s financial fragility due to the sanctions imposed since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018, according to Iran hawks. “This is both a chip, by holding the ship, but also a signal that what they need quickly from the new administration is access to frozen funds,” the senior administration official said.
The targeting of a South Korean vessel makes the message even more specific, as roughly $7 billion in Iran money is reportedly frozen in South Korean banks. “They’re literally giving you the road map for the most immediate sanctions relief they’re going to request for Biden ministration,” Goldberg concurred.
That plan might help avoid a violent crisis in the Gulf, at a time when congressional leaders have aired greater doubts about Trump’s leadership than ever: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, revealed that she spoke with Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about “available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike” in the waning days of this presidency.
“The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy,” the California Democrat wrote in a letter to colleagues Friday.
That message drew criticism from within the military. “It makes America look weak and weakness is provocative,” said a Defense Department official who advises nuclear commanders told Politico. “I don’t think what Pelosi is doing is helpful.”
In any case, Iran hawks expect Tehran to stick with its current plan to try to induce Biden to provide a financial windfall. And while the Trump administration hemorrhages personnel due to internal anger over the president’s handling of the crisis at the Capitol, current and former officials trust that enough of his national security team will remain in place to send a clear message to Iran.
“Given key national security figures involved in the defense of the United States and foreign policy are still in place,” Goldberg said, “there is no reason for enemies to believe that the political chaos would in any way disrupt our intelligence capabilities from detecting a threat, the process for reporting that threat through the chain-of-command quickly and alerting the president and key national security principals to decide on a response.”
Author: Joel Gehrke
Source: Washington Examiner: US expects Iran to prepare for talks with Biden, not plot attacks in Trump’s final days