For all of his disorganization in other policy areas, Donald Trump had a pretty clear vision for Mideast policy: The U.S. would become closer to its allies and more hostile toward its longtime adversary, Iran.
The Trump administration embraced Israel and Saudi Arabia, avoiding almost any criticism of their governments. That part of that strategy seemed to work. The new diplomatic closeness helped lead to the Abraham Accords, in which the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became the first Arab governments in a quarter-century to recognize Israel.
Trump’s ambitions with Iran were also grand. He scrapped Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, claiming that it was too weak and wouldn’t keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In its place, Trump imposed harsh sanctions, predicting they would weaken Iran’s leaders, strengthen their domestic opposition and eventually cause Iran to come begging for a new (tougher) deal.
Virtually none of that has happened.
“Iran never once came begging for a deal. They never even came to talk to the U.S.,” as the Times’s David Sanger, who’s been covering Iran policy since the 1990s, told me. Instead, Iran ramped up its nuclear program during Trump’s presidency, potentially bringing it closer to having a weapon.
an explosion — apparently caused by an Israeli attack — damaged Iran’s main nuclear enrichment site, in the city of Natanz. Today, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, involving multiple countries, are scheduled to restart in Vienna.
The key question for the Biden administration is whether it can put a nuclear deal back together — and, if it can’t, how it will try to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, with the ability to threaten Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
reasonably wonder whether the next Republican president will pull out of any new deal. Other participants in the talks, like the European Union, have similar concerns. “Who wants to make a deal with us now when Trump has shown how the next president can simply yank the plug?” Michael Crowley, who covers the State Department, asks.
Trump also took steps that make a new deal tricky. He imposed new sanctions that cite factors other than Iran’s nuclear program, like its support of terrorism. As part of any deal, Iranian leaders want the U.S. to lift these additional sanctions. But, as David Sanger points out, “it would be politically very difficult for Biden to say we are now going to lift these sanctions because we have determined that Iran no longer supports terrorism — of course it does.”