- - Thursday, February 11, 2021

Joe Biden has started out on his presidential journey by stepping in the footprints of his patron, Barack Obama. With Iran agitating to re-engage on the nuclear issue, President Biden has a chance to avoid missteps that doomed the Obama-era agreement with Iran. He should settle for nothing less than a nuclear-free Iran.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded earlier this week that the United States lift all economic sanctions before the Islamic republic will dial back its uranium enrichment operations. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went further, giving the U.S. until Feb. 21 to rejoin the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Bullies come in a variety of strengths, including extra-obnoxious.

Wisely, Mr. Biden has thus far dismissed the bluster, telling CBS News that the sanctions will stay in place until Iran returns to the limits of the original agreement.

Former President Donald Trump judged the Obama nuclear pact an example of the Middle East merry-go-round that spent decades endlessly circling peace but never achieving it. Riddled with loopholes, the deal allowed the regime to evade compliance inspections and, after 15 years, to produce nuclear weapons. In his blunt manner, Mr. Trump simply refused to ride along and withdrew from the agreement in 2018. Instead, he chose a new peace path that circumvented Iran, and he facilitated accords between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco.

Spiteful Iran ramped up its uranium enrichment to exceed the agreed limit of 3.67 percent. In January, the regime announced its intention to achieve 20 percent enrichment, putting weapons-grade uranium within easy reach.

Now, “diplomacy is back,” according to Mr. Biden, and he has appointed Robert Malley, a first-string negotiator of the Obama deal, to lead his rapprochement with Iran. This time, the U.S. team must master the kind of craving for a deal — any deal — that weakened the original pact.

Even as he dusts off the negotiating table, Mr. Biden must brush off Tehran’s deadline and stick to his refusal to sit down with the Iranians until they suspend their nuclear-enrichment program. And the halt must be permanent — free of sunset provisions. International inspectors should be free to roam anywhere and anytime to ensure compliance.

To be sure, buy-in is required from the original signatories — the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany and the European Union. And since Mr. Biden has pulled back U.S. assistance for Saudi Arabia as it counters Iran‘s proxy forces in Yemen, he owes the desert kingdom a seat at the peace table.

Finally, sending any deal to the U.S. Senate for ratification as a bona fide treaty would correct the Obama administration’s failure to fortify the original deal with congressional approval.

Americans have already witnessed the futility of a toothless nuclear agreement with a belligerent Iran. If Mr. Biden is serious about reasserting American diplomacy, he must settle for nothing less than a real deal, one that actually ensures a nuclear-free Iran.

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