Jan 12, 2022 - World

Ahead of Iran deal decision, White House to "focus the fire on Trump"

Jen Psaki briefs the press as Jake Sullivan looks on. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

With the Iran nuclear talks reaching a critical moment, the White House plans to focus much of its public messaging in the coming weeks on attacking former President Donald Trump for leaving the 2015 deal, two sources briefed on the White House plans told me.

Why it matters: The Biden administration thinks it's now just a matter of weeks before the critical decision point: Either a deal will be reached and the U.S. will return to the nuclear deal or talks will break down and the administration will move to put more pressure on Iran, the sources said.

  • Both scenarios will generate political backlash, particularly from Republicans, but the White House wants to keep Democrats together in part by emphasizing that it was Trump who triggered this crisis and left them with only bad options.
  • "They are going to focus the fire on Trump," one source said.
  • A senior administration official said the White House would "continue to clearly state the facts and set the record straight at this critical moment for diplomacy and important point in history."

Behind the scenes: According to the two sources, the Biden administration has set the end of January or early February as the deadline to make a decision and intends to ramp up its public messaging on Iran before then.

  • The White House hopes the message will be amplified by current and former officials in the U.S. and in Israel who believe Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal was a mistake.

What they're saying: During Tuesday's State Department press briefing, spokesperson Ned Price diverted from a question about the Vienna talks into an attack on the Trump administration.

  • “It’s worth spending just a moment on how we got here," Price said. "It is deeply unfortunate that because of an ill-considered or perhaps unconsidered decision by the previous administration that this administration came into office without these stringent verification and monitoring protocols that were in place."
  • Price said the Trump administration promised a better deal “that never came close" and instead "Iran has been able to gallop forward with its nuclear promise."

What’s next: The eighth round of talks in Vienna has continued for almost two weeks now. U.S. and European diplomats briefed on the talks say there has been modest progress but not such that they're optimistic a deal is at hand.

  • European diplomats say most of the talks in recent days focused on Iran’s demand that the U.S. provide guarantees that no future president will pull out of the deal — a promise the Biden administration has said it can't make.
  • Iranian media reports also focused on the guarantee issue and added that another focus of the talks was on Iran’s demand for verification that the sanctions relief in any deal really delivers economic benefits, though it's unclear what that would entail.
  • The Iranians claim that the Obama administration continued to discourage companies from doing business in Iran even after lifting sanctions.
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