US: Joe Biden’s Iran conundrum in 500 words | Explainer News

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Concerns have run high for weeks about Iran stoking tensions, particularly around the January 3 one-year anniversary of the US killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq.

US President-elect Joe Biden’s policy towards Iran is getting more complicated by the day.

With provocative measures by Iran and less-than-coherent actions by the outgoing Trump administration, Biden is facing an increasingly uncertain situation with Iran.

In the latest developments:

A dangerous escalation of tensions?

Concerns have run high for weeks about Iran stoking tensions, particularly around the January 3 one-year anniversary of the US killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq.

US officials have been on heightened alert for possible retaliation from Iran.

Does military action seem likely?

Part of the worry is a single wrong move – or intentional provocation – has the potential to trigger war.

There is no sign the US is planning an attack on Iran, although President Donald Trump has said he would respond to any attack by Tehran or its affiliated militias in Iraq that resulted in the death of an American. The scenario that worries US military officials is Iran conducting an attack, either inside Iraq or elsewhere in the Gulf region, that would prompt Trump to retaliate.

Why would the USS Nimitz be ordered home, then sent back?

The highly unusual Nimitz flip-flop by the acting secretary of defence, Christopher Miller, seemed to undercut US Central Command’s efforts to convince Iran that it would not pay to launch an attack on US forces.

Sending the aircraft carrier Nimitz home had been on the table for weeks, since it was on a lengthy deployment and was scheduled to return by the end of 2020. On December 31, Miller announced he ordered it to return home. Three days later, he said it would stay.

Cancelling the go-home order for the Nimitz surprised some defence officials.

What is the point of B-52 bombers in the Gulf?

These long-range bomber flights have become more routine in recent weeks as a show of military might. There have been three B-52 bomber missions to the region in less than two months, most recently on December 30.

The round-trip flights from the US are meant to show how quickly bombers can get to the area. They can be equipped with either conventional or nuclear missiles. Marine General Frank McKenzie, the top US commander for the Middle East, made the message clear this week.

“We do not seek conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack.”

What does all this mean for Biden’s Iran policy?

Biden’s transition team has declined to comment in detail about the latest developments.

But, Biden and his top national security aides have laid out their approach to Iran in broad strokes. Top of that list is bringing Iran back into compliance with the nuclear deal and then expanding that pact to take into account non-nuclear behaviour that was not covered by the initial agreement.

Iran, however, has said it will only return to compliance if the US rejoins the deal and rescinds sanctions that Trump reimposed over the past two years.

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