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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The world is waiting to see whether Iran will strike back at Israel or the U.S. over the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran's military nuclear program.

Why it matters: Senior Iranian officials have stressed that Iran will take revenge against the perpetrators, but also respond by continuing Fakhrizadeh’s legacy — the nuclear program. The key question is whether Iran will accelerate that work now, or wait to see what President-elect Biden puts on the table.

The backstory: Iran has waited out two years of "maximum pressure" under President Trump, breaching the enrichment limits of the 2015 nuclear deal after Trump withdrew but stopping short of more drastic steps.

  • Biden has long said that if Iran returns to compliance, he'll loosen sanctions in order to bring the U.S. back into the deal.

State of play: Hardliners in Tehran have long been critical of President Hassan Rouhani's "strategic patience" policy, and their voices have grown louder in the wake of Fakhrizadeh's assassination.

  • Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on Tuesday calling on the government to raise uranium enrichment levels to 20%, start rebuilding the heavy water reactor in Arak, and limit the access of UN inspectors to Iran's nuclear sites.

The other side: The more pragmatic camp, led by Rouhani, argues that such steps on the nuclear program would play into the hands of the Trump administration and Israel.

  • They stress the need to prioritize the removal of U.S. sanctions once Biden assumes office — a goal they think is at hand.
  • Rouhani said on Wednesday that the Parliament decision was “harmful for diplomatic activities," adding: “We think that with the defeat of this war [by Trump] and the maximum pressure, the situation will be different next year."
  • The decision is ultimately in the hands of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. His public comments thus far have not indicated that he's siding with those arguing for an imminent acceleration on the nuclear front.

The latest: Biden and his transition team have been silent on Fakhrizadeh's assassination, and several Biden aides refused to comment on the matter for this story.

Flashback: The two-tiered debate over Iran's response echoes the aftermath of the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, by the U.S.

  • Iran took tactical revenge by launching missiles at American bases in Iraq. But Iran's strategic response was to press the Iraqi government to call on the U.S. to pull its troops out of the country.

What to watch: Diplomats from world powers who are still part of the nuclear deal (Russia, China, France, Germany, the UK and the EU) will meet Iranian officials in Vienna on Dec. 16 to discuss ways to preserve the deal, get Iran back to full compliance and prepare for the new U.S. administration.

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Jan 26, 2021 - World

Biden holds first phone call with Putin, raises Navalny arrest

Putin takes a call in 2017. Photo: Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

President Biden on Tuesday held his first call since taking office with Vladimir Putin, pressing the Russian president on the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and the Russia-linked hack on U.S. government agencies.

The state of play: Biden also raised arms control, bounties allegedly placed on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine, according to a White House readout. The statement said Biden and Putin agreed maintain "consistent communication," and that Biden stressed the U.S. would "act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies."

Read: Former Vice President Walter Mondale's last message

Photo courtesy of Mondale.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale wrote a farewell letter to his staff, sent upon his death on Monday, thanking them for years working together.

Dear Team,

Well my time has come. I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor. Before I Go I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side!

Together we have accomplished so much and I know you will keep up the good fight.

Joe in the White House certainly helps.

I always knew it would be okay if I arrived some place and was greeted by one of you!

My best to all of you!

Fritz

Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at 93

Walter Mondale, left, with former President Jimmy Carter in Jan. 2018 at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota's campus in Minneapolis. Photo: Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Walter Mondale, who transformed the role of U.S. vice president while serving under Jimmy Carter and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1984, died Monday at 93, according to a family spokesperson.

The big picture: President Biden, who was mentored by Mondale through the years, said in 2015 that the former vice president gave him a "roadmap" to successfully take on the job.