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.