Biden Administration Looks To Resume Talks With Iran Amid New Attacks By Iranian Proxies In Iraq

The Biden administration has signaled its willingness to restart talks with Iran aimed at either a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or wiping the slate clean and coming up with a new Iranian nuclear deal. On Thursday, a State Department spokesman said the administration would “accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program.” The timing of the announcement could’ve been better with it coming just days after Iranian-connected militant groups in Iraq launched rockets at a US-led coalition airbase in Erbil. One US civilian contractor was killed and nine people injured including one US soldier. No administration officials have publicly acknowledged that an Iranian-backed group is responsible for the Erbil attack. Which makes sense given that the administration’s main foreign policy goal at the moment is to figure a way back into a nuclear deal with Iran. Admitting that an Iranian supported group is responsible for the attack will force Biden to respond, thus dimming the prospects for future talks with Iran.

Whatever the response may be, it will contrast sharply with the Trump administration’s strategy of retaliating militarily against the militias and going after top Iranian military leaders like Qasem Soleimani. This was a risky strategy. However, it paid dividends by neutralizing Iranian proxy groups inside Iraq and pushed back Tehran’s regional ambitions considerably. In contrast, Joe Biden will be searching first for non-military responses. This runs the risk of presenting a weak response that encourages Iranian proxies inside Iraq and other areas of the region. If these groups reach a point where they feel they can attack US troops and installations without fear of retaliation or other consequence, it will only be a matter of time until a major attack is launched against US troops and interests in Iraq and perhaps on the Arabian Peninsula as well.

Iranian Crisis: 8 January, 2020 Morning Update

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In a previous article I spoke a bit about how preserving one’s honor, aka saving face, is so significant in Middle Eastern politics. Given all of the troubles already facing it, the Iranian government probably does not want to spark a major war right now. Yet it could not simply allow the Soleimani killing to go unpunished. Tehran had to find an action that would allow it to save face with its allies and Iranian-supported proxy forces around the world, and satisfying internal elements such as the IRGC without inviting major US military action. The missile attacks against Irbil and Al Asad yesterday give the appearance of a compromise. The number of ballistic missiles used was limited, and the target selection demonstrates Iran’s desire not to inflict US casualties. Damage was caused against facilities used by US forces in Iraq, hopefully satisfying the desire for revenge among IRGC officers and troops loyal to Soleimani.

On the heels of the missile attacks are rumors that the IRGC intelligence organization arrested upwards of 50 IRGC commanders who were the most fervent followers of Qasem Soleimani. If true, this demonstrates the regime’s desire to control escalation, and prevent Soleimani’s faction from making unauthorized attacks against US targets in the Persian Gulf region. It also highlights the Iranian government’s main priority at the present time: Survival.

Then there is the Ukrainian airliner crash on the outskirts of the airport in Tehran last night. That will be discussed later, though at the moment it would appear to be a tragic accident at the wrong time.

More updates will come later in the day as time allows.