Biden’s ‘Confidence Building’ for Iran a Huge Strategic Mistake

by AMCD advisor Walid Phares

As of early 2021, the Biden administration implemented the so-called “salami slices” method, that is, to release seemingly unrelated streams of cash and allowing the monies to reach the coffers of the regime in Tehran, Iran.

The process is sophisticated and avoids an official removal of sanctions.

Seen as “confidence building measures,” the move aims to “encourage” the Iranians (their government) to act more evenly in the negotiations (regarding the Iran Nuclear Deal) and to come to a positive conclusion more quickly.

Those planning for a return to the deal, on all sides, came to an agreement that the U.S. would loosen the valves in multiple ways, to allow the regime to gradually move toward resolution.

One major way the bureaucracy applied the “salami slices” tactic was to allow humanitarian aid to be released to Iran under many forms  to combat COVID19, to secure basic medical equipment, or to get necessary supplies to the country’s population.

While the American goal was noble, the regime was able to use the financial aid to replace its own funding of these obligations and then use the replaced monies to fund militias across the region.

Meaning, what was sent to Iran to address humanitarian necessities were actually released as funds to support nefarious activities.

The backing of the Iran regime via “humanitarian and medical aid” was not limited to only U.S. institutions, but was also requested from allied nations globally who in turn also supplied Tehran with “logistical assistance.”

Under U.S. coordination, the Islamic Republic obtained backing from European Union (EU), Asian and other allied countries.

For approximately a year and a half, the Biden administration organized a vast wave of small pushes, almost unseen by the public, both from the United States and from its allies, to provide relief to Iran.

Each step was too small to be noticed and too “humanitarian” in nature to trigger outrage.

But added together, it constituted a large package of direct aid supposedly destined for the suffering population of Iran.

However, it was coordinated with the regime and thus had to go through state institutions — or be overseen by them. So, in addition to relieving the ruling powers from these obligations, allowing the regime to direct initial resources to strategic military and security goals, another negative (but expected) phenomenon occurred.

The regime had the upper hand in selecting the recipients of the aid and was thus (and is) able to direct the aid to its own supporters and the base of the revolutionary guard first.

Such a strategy has been executed by pro-Iranian militias in the region before, as seen in Lebanon with Hezbollah’s  “NGOs,” (non-governmental organizations) with the Houthis in Yemen, and through other armed groups in Syria and Iraq.

The regime’s machine was in charge of irrigating the recipients of these exceptions made to the sanctions. The under-the-radar limited socio-economic help to Iran was an appetizer to the return of full U.S. financial support, theoretically  after Tehran comes back to the new arrangements.

In reality, however, the domestic relief empowered the regime to continue to act in a bellicose way regionally.

Another valve was opened allowing the release of cash deposited in multiple third countries to find its way to Tehran.

This money, frozen under sanctions by the U.S. and allies, was to be liberated only after a full deal is reached. And a full deal should have guaranteed security to the region and the U.S., including a ban on ballistic missiles, dismantling militias, and ending suppression of the population, in addition, of course, to ending the uranium enrichment.

But money was transferred to Iran’s rulers before they changed any behavior.

Swiftly and stealthily, hundreds of millions of dollars were released from multiple countries, inclusive of South Korea, Oman, and other locations, to be absorbed by Iranian banks controlled by the regime.

This means, for two years, a “sub-Iran deal,” an undeclared under-the-table agreement was in effect by which large transfers took place.

Again, the rationale in D.C. and in Brussels was that once the decision to engage in the Vienna talks was made, these moves were part of the bargaining dance and are thus legitimate.

But such an argument only works when the party in question (Iran) has made a decision to change its policies, as when Ukraine and South Africa decided to forgo their nuclear programs in the early 1990s, or even when Gaddafi let go of his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Iran, despite the JCPOA’s gift of $150 billion (as of 2015), and despite U.S. pressures, has not only maintained but has expanded its strategic programs, expanded its militias, and increased its military alliances worldwide.

Hence, offering financial appetizers to the regime before they change course only encourages the Ayatollahs to resist international pressures and to aggrandize their regional ambitions.

And that’s why when the Ukraine war exploded in February, Tehran sided with Russia, China, and eventually with North Korea.

And while it continues to back militias in the region, fire missiles, and is unyielding to Western pressures, the “appetizers” it received over the past 18 months acted as incentives to increasing rogue behavior. It’s time for Washington to reverse course.

First published in Newsmax.

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