WASHINGTON (AP) — Last week’s attack on author Salman Rushdie and the indictment of an Iranian national in a plot to kill former national security adviser John Bolton have given the Biden administration new headaches as it attempts to negotiate a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
A resolution may be tantalizingly close. But as the U.S. and Europe weigh Iran’s latest response to an EU proposal described as the West’s final offer, the administration faces new and potentially insurmountable domestic political hurdles to forging a lasting agreement.
Deal critics in Congress who have long vowed to blow up any pact have ratcheted up their opposition to negotiations with a country whose leadership has refused to rescind the death threats against Rushdie or Bolton. Iran also vows to avenge the Trump administration’s 2020 assassination of a top Iranian general by killing former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iran envoy Brian Hook, both of whom remain under 24/7 taxpayer-paid security protection.
Although such threats are not covered by the deal, which relates solely to Iran’s nuclear program, they underscore deal opponents’ arguments that Iran cannot be trusted with the billions of dollars in sanctions relief it will receive if and when it and the U.S. return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, a signature foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration that President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.
“This is a tougher deal to sell than the 2015 deal in that this time around there are no illusions that it will serve to moderate Iranian behavior or lead to greater U.S.-Iran cooperation,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The Iranian government stands to get tens of billions in sanctions relief, and the organizing principle of the regime will continue to be opposition to the United States and violence against its critics, both at home and abroad,” he said.
Iran has denied any link with Rushdie’s alleged attacker, an American citizen who was indicted for attempted murder and has pleaded not guilty in the Aug. 12 stabbing at a literary event in Western New York. But Iranian state media have celebrated Iran’s long-standing antipathy toward Rushdie since the 1988 publication of his book “The Satanic Verses,” which some believe is insulting to Islam.
Media linked to Iran’s leadership have lauded the attacker for following through on a 1989 decree, or fatwa, calling for Rushdie to be killed that was signed by Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
And the man who was charged with plotting to murder Bolton is a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Justice Department alleges the IRGC tried to pay $300,000 to people in the United States to avenge the death of Qassam Suleimani, the head of its elite Quds Force who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Iraq in 2020.
“I think it’s delusional to believe that a regime that you’re about to enter into a significant arms control agreement with can be depended on to comply with its obligations or is even serious about the negotiation when it’s plotting the assassination of high-level former government officials and current government officials,” Bolton told reporters Wednesday.
“It certainly looks like the attack on Salman Rushdie had a Revolutionary Guard component,” Bolton said. “We’ve got to stop this artificial division when dealing with the government of Iran between its nuclear activities on the one hand and its terrorist activities on the other.”