International experts negatively assess Washington’s idea to review Iran nuclear deal
18 October 2017. PenzaNews. President of the United States Donald Trump called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), adopted by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the high representative of the European Union, Germany and Iran in 2015, “one of the worst” and the most unfavorable deals Washington has ever entered into, and condemned the withdrawal of sanctions from Tehran.
“We got weak inspections in exchange for no more than a purely short-term and temporary delay in Iran’s path to nuclear weapons. […] That is why I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons,” Donald Trump said in his TV speech on 13 October 2017.
Commenting on the statement of the American leader, the speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani said it was irresponsible.
“It seems that Mr. Trump not only does not adhere to international agreements, but does not feel respect for the UN and demonstrates to all countries that the US government will not adhere to any obligations,” the Iranian politician said at the Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in St. Petersburg.
In turn, the leaders of France, Britain and Germany expressed confidence that the agreement meets “shared national security interest” and stated that they are concerned about Donald Trump's decision on Iran.
“We, the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom take note of President Trump's decision not to recertify Iran's compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to Congress and are concerned by the possible implications,” President Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Theresa May said in a joint statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also commented on the US position on the JCPOA announced by the head of the White House.
“Two years ago, an agreement was reached on the Iranian nuclear program, and it was approved by the UN Security Council, the whole world welcomed it. Now Washington is withdrawing from it, this is again the problem of negotiability as a foreign policy value,” he said at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi.
Meanwhile, Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are known for their attitude towards Iran, welcomed the new approach of the United States in this matter.
Analyzing the difficult situation around Tehran, Azadeh Zamirirad, Senior Associate, Research Division Middle East and Africa, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said the JCPOA is the most effective tool we currently have to verify that Iran´s nuclear activities are for civilian – peaceful – purposes only.
“Without it, we would go back to a state of uncertainty among the neighbors, thus adding to the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region. Decertification as part of a new US strategy does not have to end in the dissolution of the agreement. As long as Washington does not re-impose nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, there is still a good chance to keep the agreement intact and strive for common solutions,” the analyst told PenzaNews.
She also reminded that the JCPOA is not a bilateral agreement between the US and Iran.
“The nuclear agreement is the product of intensive negotiations among not two but eight parties and is backed by a UN Security Council resolution. The United States cannot single-handedly topple the deal if all other parties are serious about remaining committed,” Azadeh Zamirirad stressed.
Joe Brazda, Research Associate, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, called the JCPOA a landmark agreement.
“When it was first revealed as the Joint Plan of Action in 2013, myself and my colleagues did not believe the Iranians would agree to even a small percentage of its provisions. Not only did Iran agree to limit their enrichment levels, reduce their stockpile to 300kgs and remove more than two thirds of their centrifuges, they also agreed to allow inspections on centrifuge production facilities, the machines that form the cylinders to be declared and monitored and inspections at their uranium mines. With these provisions in place it would be extremely difficult to develop a clandestine facility and the IAEA would know immediately,” the expert said.
According to him, the decision to de-certify the Iran deal will have negative consequences.
“Donald Trump is listening to the same hawks that has resulted in the DPRK nuclear weapons program. There was an agreement between the DPRK and the US that prevented the North from getting a weapon for almost ten years. Then hawkish politicians came into power and ended the agreement. The Iran deal is working and to de-certify it is an extremely bad policy. Trump will not be supported by our partners. If the rest of the partners in the deal agree it is working and the Iranians agree to abide by the provisions, then I believe the deal will survive. Both Iran and the EU have agreed to stay in the deal. It would be difficult to see the Russians or Chinese support a withdrawal while the deal is working. They and the EU have already entered into numerous agreements with Iran on energy, infrastructure development, coalition building, oil and arms trade. This could be devastating for US foreign policy as it will completely discredit the US as a negotiating partner and any hope of resolving the DPRK crisis through diplomacy will diminish,” Joe Brazda explained and added that blowing up the nuclear deal can only create another crisis.
Meanwhile, his colleague, Director of the Middle East Nonproliferation Program in James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Chen Kane said that the JCPOA has “very narrow and specific objective, it aims at constraining Iran’s nuclear weapons activities.”
“It doesn’t solve other issues related to Iran’s behavior such as Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, Iran’s repressive behavior at home, or its missiles program. Whether we like it or not, the JCPOA was not intended to address these issues. It addressed only Iran’s nuclear program and aimed at blocking Iran’s ability to have nuclear weapons for at least 15 years. So far, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the international body responsible of verifying the agreement has confirmed 8 times Iran has been living to its commitments,” the analyst reminded.
In her opinion, the new strategy of the White House should be a comprehensive review, addressing not only the JCPOA or Iran’s nuclear program.
“However, so far the Administration failed to deliver any practical and achievable policy on any of its promised ‘reviews’, be it tax reforms, health bill, or North Korea. We will have to see if beyond rhetoric, they offer any concrete, practical and achievable steps. Decertification of the deal does not mean by itself collapse of the deal. It puts Congress in charge of whether or not to follow up with action, triggering a 60-day window for lawmakers to re-impose sanctions against Iran that were suspended in 2015 as part of JCPOA. But it is unclear what is the purpose of decertification aside of domestic politics,” Chen Kane said.
Not only it won’t serve any of US national interests to destroy directly or indirectly the deal without having a viable, workable and achievable alternative; in fact, it will risk US’ and our allies’ interests and national security, she added.
In turn, Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California and an analyst of Iran’s nuclear program and its political developments, stressed that the JCPOA has contributed significantly to stability in the Middle East because it has greatly reduced the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the region.
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“Before the JCPOA was signed, some Arab nations of the Persian Gulf area had explicitly or implicitly threatened that they would pursue their own nuclear program, but now they no longer have that excuse, nor are they pursuing it,” the analyst said.
He also said the US policy toward Iran has been a total disaster for over 60 years.
“The US has tried to isolate Iran, has imposed severe economic sanctions on Iran, has threatened it with military actions, and in 1988 even shot down Iran's passenger airliner over the Persian Gulf that killed 290 people, including 65 children. It has also helped consolidate Iran's hardliners’ power that are very unpopular in Iran, but have used US policy to justify crackdown at home,” Muhammad Sahimi explained.
In his opinion, the new strategy will not lead to the collapse of JCPOA, if Europe abides by its obligation toward Iran, and supports Iran in its confrontation with the US; while the United States itself risks becoming isolated.
“US hawks will try to ratchet up their rhetoric and propaganda against Iran over the coming months. They want to push Iran out of Syria and Iraq, force it to stop supporting the Lebanese Hezbollah, and terminate their ballistic missile program. Iran will resist in all areas, and therefore tension will rise greatly,” the expert said.
Meanwhile, according to Baqer Moin, Former head of the BBC's Persian service, the JCPOA adopted in 2015 was the beginning of the road to confidence building measures between Iran and others.
“Development of the situation around the JCPOA in the US depends on the composition of opinion in the congress the way it is going to deal with the JCPOA in two month time. Trump’s policy has postponed any chance of improved relations with Iran for many years to come and may lead to conflicts in the region. On the other hand, as he is not steady policy-maker he may suddenly for some reason decide to get a grand bargain with Iran so his will be regarded as the man who restored relations with Iran as [Richard] Nixon did with China,” the analyst suggested.
In his opinion, the US can make the JCPOA meaningless if the Congress decides to reimpose the nuclear related sanctions on Iran.
“Development of the situation is difficult to predict. Iran is not going to give up its presence in the Levant easily. Saudi, Israeli and US will attempt to curtail Iran’s influence. Whatever happens, it would be difficult to see any solution to reconciliation in Syria, Iraq and Yemen without some form of cooperation between Iran and others,” Baqer Moin stressed.
Tytti Erasto, researcher on nuclear weapon issues, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the Trump administration’s Iran policy is short-sighted and irresponsible.
“The deal is being constantly undermined by hostile rhetoric and actions — decertification is the latest and the most serious example. While hostility with Iran has deep roots in the United States, the sudden disregard for nuclear non-proliferation is inconsistent with previous US policy. By jeopardising the hard-negotiated limits to Iran’s nuclear program, the United States risks going back to the time when it could do nothing about Iran’s expanding uranium enrichment program,” the analyst said.
Meanwhile, according to her, the main problem is that the US can reimpose extraterritorial sanctions, thus interfering with economic cooperation between Iran and third parties.
“In such a situation, the EU’s role would particularly crucial: if the EU opposes extraterritorial US measures by offering legal protection to its businesses and financial institutions, Iran is likely to continue JCPOA implementation. If not, Iran is likely to pull out, which would mean collapse of the deal,” Tytti Erasto said.
“I hope that Republicans in the US Congress — despite their previous opposition to the JCPOA — understand the risks of pulling out from the deal. However, as far as they are under the illusion that more sanctions or even military action could produce a better outcome, they might be more concerned about the reputational costs of pulling out than the fate of the JCPOA. In that case, they might decide to continue waiving sanctions, and instead seek to provoke Iran in other ways — with the objective of making it pull out, and thus taking the blame internationally,” the expert added.
In her opinion, the future of the JCPOA largely depends on other countries that are parties to the agreement along with the United States.
“Others might genuinely want to keep the JCPOA, but still support hard line policies on Iran, assuming this will not endanger the deal. Whatever their motivations and decisions in the coming months, the JCPOA will continue to be under threat until there is a significant change in US-Iranian relations, which have gone downhill since the election of President Trump. Other JCPOA partners will need to think of creative ways to maintain the nuclear deal in this context,” Tytti Erasto concluded.