The presidency of Donald Trump was characterised by allegations, protests and political turmoil; a similar approach was followed in his conduction of foreign affairs. Trump used his time in office to pursue an offensive against Iran. In 2018, amid talks for a ‘Nuclear Deal’ with Iran, known as JCPOA, Trump pulled out; rejecting the deal that might have ended the US-imposed sanctions on the country. Instead, sanctions on Iran continued.
The polarised relationship between Iran and the United States has been long-standing. The political interests of the oil-dependent US economy, upon the region – which controls more than half of the world’s oil reserves – are clear. The portrayal of Iran in the US media and within politics, as erratic and synonymous with terrorism, has seemingly aided intervention in the region and sustained a narrative of ideological differences between the nations. In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, ideas of the region as hostile led to misconstrued understandings of nuclear capabilities, and aided the justification for intervention. In portraying Iran and its surrounding region as one-dimensional, the US is able to portray itself as righteous, saving the erratic.
Trump pulling out of the deal in 2018 created a hiatus in negotiations and allowed a window of opportunity for all parties involved, and subsequently revived a desire for more control over the region. European actors may wish to exploit this pause in negotiations for a better deal in obtaining more power over the region themselves, while Iran has already taken action to reduce its commitments to the deal; manifested in a bill to stop unannounced nuclear site inspections. While it is unclear exactly how the actors might settle their changing agendas for a continued negotiation – the deficit of trust is clear.
The role of Biden here could offer significant change. Biden has already promised to reverse Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal. Perhaps this US re-commitment to the negotiations might begin to resolve the deficit of trust among those players involved and create cohesion. The United States, following this hiatus, has an opportunity to pursue diplomacy, and take steps towards sanction relief in Iran.
Biden, with years of work in office under his belt, is well versed in US-Iran relations. His article regarding Iran for CNN outlined his understanding of the need of the Nuclear Deal to focus primarily on nuclear weapons, rather than addressing other issues in the region. The actions which Biden choses to take have the capacity to rebuild relations with the region, and the choices he makes may be pivotal and ultimately very telling about his overall approach to foreign relations during his tenure.
The long-term impacts of Biden’s next choices will be the measure of his intentions about Iran, and an indicator of his position as a hawk or a dove.
Anna Sian White is a SOAS Digital Ambassador studying BA International Relations and Social Anthropology.