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Plunged into uncertainty

  • Published at 10:40 am May 27th, 2018
The deal was working

By withdrawing from the JCPOA, the US is creating chaos

O May 8, Donald Trump launched a scathing assault on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal, approved and accepted by Iran in 2015 along with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. 

The agreement was aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions that had been imposed by the UN, the US, and the EU. He said that he would work to find a “real, comprehensive, and lasting” deal that tackled not only the Iranian nuclear program but its ballistic missile tests and activities across the Middle East.

Trump also observed that he would reimpose economic sanctions that were waived when the deal was signed in 2015. The US Treasury, in the meantime, has commented that the new US sanctions would target industries mentioned in the deal, including Iran’s oil sector, aircraft manufacturers exporting to Iran, and the Iranian government’s attempts to buy dollar banknotes. 

It would be pertinent to point out that the JCPOA saw Iran agree to limit the size of its stockpile of enriched uranium -- used to make reactor fuel and nuclear weapons -- for 15 years and the number of centrifuges installed to enrich uranium for 10 years. 

Iran also agreed to modify a heavy water facility so it could not produce plutonium suitable for a bomb. Since then, it has insisted that its nuclear program was entirely peaceful, and that its compliance with the deal had been verified regularly by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- who has said that Iran has been honouring its commitments.

This hardline approach on the part of the US has also been reiterated on May 21 by the new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has warned that “Iran will be forced to make a choice: Either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.” 

Pompeo has also warned Iran to end support to “terrorist” groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Islamic Jihad. Iran has been advised to withdraw all forces under Iran’s command throughout the entirety of Syria. 

Restarting US sanctions would mean that major European and US companies are likely to be hit. The confusion about renewed sanctions has exacerbated with the comment made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is reported to have said that European companies doing business in Iran will have to stop doing so within six months, or face US sanctions. 

This unfortunately has put US perception of diplomacy pertaining to Iran on a collision course with some of Washington’s closest allies -- France, Germany, the UK, and the EU.

Under the 2015 agreement, Iran promised to scale back its nuclear enrichment and give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. It was, however, still allowed to develop nuclear technology for civilian purposes, including energy production and scientific research. 

Consistent with this flexibility, Rouhani unveiled on Iran’s “National Atomic Energy Day” the latest in Iranian nuclear technological developments, including developing of centrifuges and nuclear medicine. 

Responses from the world

The international response to the US decision has been one of anxiety and concern. Russia has said that it was “deeply disappointed” by Trump’s decision. They feel that the decision also puts the Korean peace process in doubt. China has also expressed regret. 

This tends to underline an inconvenient truth for Donald Trump -- the nuclear deal was working. All the other countries who signed up to the agreement also believe that Iran has been in full compliance with its terms.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that the Iranian nuclear deal is “not dead” despite the US president’s decision to withdraw. UK Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron have emphasized their “continuing commitment” to the deal in a joint statement and called upon Iran to show restraint. 

EU High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini has noted in a statement that as long as Iran remained committed, the EU would also continue “full and effective implementation” of the deal. European Council President Donald Tusk has also weighed in with similar lines on Twitter. 

The US decision has however, as expected, been welcomed by Iran’s major regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Israel. 

After Trump’s decision, Barack Obama has released a lengthy statement, calling Trump’s decision “a serious mistake.” He has defended the agreement his administration helped negotiate. He has also warned that “without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.”

Some media analysts have taken this opportunity to draw attention to the fact that since his inauguration, Trump has taken aim at practically every one of his predecessor’s achievements. 

Within a week of his inauguration, he pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. In June last year he announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. 

He has re-imposed sanctions and travel restrictions on Cuba, rescinded proposed controls on power-plant emissions, fuel efficiency standards for new cars and other environmental regulations, formally moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and threatened new sanctions against Palestinians. 

One needs to conclude by pointing out that finally, since assumption of his office 16 months ago, President Trump appears to have constituted “a foreign policy team that is largely on the same page -- his page.”

Muhammad Zamir is a former Ambassador is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance, and can be reached at [email protected]