Biden Administration Should Strike a New Deal with Iran

Abbas Milani — an expert on U.S.-Iran relations — discusses the Iranian economy, the future of Iran’s leadership, and what a potential nuclear deal could mean for the U.S.

Iranian-Americans gather under yellow umbrellas on the west side of the U.S. Capitol to demonstrate in support of a free Iran July 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo: Getty Images.

By Alice Wenner

Iran’s economy is at its worst point in decades, its Supreme Leader is ill, and the country is desperate for a nuclear deal with the United States, Abbas Milani told host Michael McFaul on the World Class Podcast. Listen and read below to learn more about Milani’s recommendations for the Biden Administration on U.S. foreign policy with Iran.

Abbas Milani discusses U.S.-Iran relations on the World Class Podcast^

On the future of Iranian leadership and U.S.-Iran relations:

“[Ayatollah] Khamenei has been Iran’s Supreme Leader for 33 years. There are two candidates vying for his succession: one is his son, Mojtaba, who is becoming increasingly assertive in the public domain. And there’s a gentleman named Ebrahim Raisi, who’s the head of the judiciary, and who is behaving as if he is the next anointed Supreme Leader. Khamenei is clearly sick — there is open talk about his disease. In terms of U.S.-Iran relations, if he does pass from the scene, that might be an opening [for discourse] because he has been singularly intransigent anti-American from the days he was a minor cleric, and throughout his entire 42-year career.”

On the Iranian economy:

“I think the economy is the worst that I have seen it. It is far worse than it was, for example, during the war with Iraq, and I lived in Iran at the time. Iran’s revenue has gone from maybe $100 billion to maybe $20 billion. During the past year, there has been a massive flight of capital through corruption. There is unemployment in the double-digits, and inflation in the double-digits. There is no possibility of bringing in foreign investment in the energy sector that they desperately need. Tourism has no existence, and there are labor strikes all over the country.

And on top of all of this is the problem of COVID-19. Next to the United States and a couple of other countries, Iran has probably the worst record in coping with COVID in terms of the number of deaths and the number of people who have it.”

On Iran’s stance on a potential new nuclear deal:

“Since the election was called in Biden’s favor, Iran has been hoping for a quick turnaround and a quick end to the sanctions. They were under the illusion that Biden would come in and open the floodgates to funds overnight. I never thought this would happen, and I never thought this would be a wise policy for the United States.

But the minute they thought they would be negotiating with the Biden administration for a nuclear deal, they began to create realities on the ground. They began to expedite enrichment. They began to add new centrifuges. They created metal uranium that has no peaceful purpose. This is very much in line with the way they have done things in the past — they create reality on the ground and then they negotiate.

I think they have clearly overplayed their hand. They are desperate for a deal, but they want a bigger deal and a release of more funds than I think the Biden administration is willing to — or should — let them have.”

On the U.S. foreign policy connection between Iran, China, and Russia:

“I think the fact that you had the two earlier podcast discussions on China and Russia and are now talking about Iran, underscores the fact that these three issues are interconnected. You cannot solve them unilaterally, and you need to understand them as a package of the problem. Iran very clearly is trying to use the China card, is very much trying to use the Russia card, to create a wedge with Europe and create a wedge between Europe and the United States, and to give itself a much easier chance to negotiate.”

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The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies is Stanford’s premier research institute for international affairs. Faculty views are their own.