Castigating Iran for alleged breaches is a cowardly distraction from the real problem. If the United States does not take the morally and legally honorable steps then the suspicion of an ulterior agenda will be fatal for resolving the impasse.
The international signatories to the nuclear accord with Iran have now a three-month window to salvage that landmark deal. The onus is on the United States to return to the Joint Comprehension Plan of Action (JCPOA) – as the accord is formally titled. Washington must do this unconditionally, beginning with lifting its economic sanctions from Iran. The European states have a duty to advocate Washington to meet its obligations. And all of the Western powers have a duty to honor a treaty which bears their signatures. Castigating Iran for alleged breaches is a cowardly distraction from the real problem.
This week Iran averted a further serious breakdown in the JCPOA after negotiating an interim inspection compromise with the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran has suspended so-called short-notice inspections at nuclear and military sites for three months, but will continue recording video footage at the sites which it will then provide to the IAEA for monitoring and verification purposes as required under the JCPOA. If, however, the United States does not cancel its sanctions on Iran by this period then the surveillance videos will be destroyed, and one can assume that the JCPOA will be finally doomed.
Let’s recap on how we arrived at this impasse. The JCPOA was signed in July 2015 by the United States, Britain, France, Germany (the E3), Russia, China and Iran. It was subsequently ratified by the UN Security Council. The accord took several years of painstaking negotiations to complete and was widely seen as a landmark in diplomacy and an important achievement towards improving peace and security in the Middle East – Israel’s continued possession of nuclear weapons notwithstanding.
In exchange for Iran taking the unprecedented step of severely curtailing its civilian nuclear program (a program it is entitled to pursue as a signatory of the 1970 Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty), the other international powers were mandated to cancel a raft of Western and UN sanctions imposed on Iran.
Then Donald Trump got elected as US president in 2016 and set about sabotaging the JCPOA which he disparaged as the “worst deal ever”. Trump walked the US away from the accord unilaterally in May 2018 and promptly re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. This was part of a “maximum pressure” policy of aggression towards Iran by the Trump administration which was rationalized by citing baseless allegations that the Iranians were secretly building nuclear weapons and conducting malign operations in the region.
Not only that but the Trump administration threatened all other signatories to the JCPOA with extraterritorial “secondary sanctions” if they continued doing business with Iran. Russia and China have ignored those American threats, but lamentably the European Union has feebly caved in to Washington’s demands. Billions of euro-worth of investment and trade deals with Iran were scrapped by the Europeans in deference to Washington’s bullying diktat. In effect, as far as relations between Iran and the Western powers are concerned the JCPOA has delivered nothing of benefit to the Iranian people despite Tehran’s erstwhile full compliance with the accord.
The combination of the United States unilaterally abrogating an international treaty, and the Europeans complying with unlawful punitive measures against Iran, then resulted in Tehran taking subsequent steps to gradually wind down – but not revoking – its commitments to the JCPOA. Those steps include surpassing limits on enrichment of uranium and stockpiles of the enriched nuclear material. Iran is within its right to carry out these “remedial actions” under the provisions of the JCPOA if other signatories do not meet their obligations. And the US and EU have clearly not met their obligations.
The latest suspension by Iran of inspections from the IAEA must be seen in the wider context of responding to the Western powers reneging on the implementation of an international treaty to which they are signatories.
Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden has stated his intention to return the United States to the JCPOA. Biden has also dismissed the “maximum pressure” policy of his predecessor as a failure.
However, the Biden administration is insisting that it is Iran which must first return to full compliance with the nuclear accord.
It is somewhat disconcerting that the European trio of Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement this week censoring Iran for halting inspections from the IAEA. The E3 urged Iran to resume “full compliance” of the JCPOA.
The Europeans would have more credibility and authority if they showed some backbone in censoring the United States for its egregious failure to honor the nuclear accord. The Europeans say little if nothing when it comes to holding the US to account. It is the Europeans who have aided and abetted Washington in its backsliding and abuse of sanctions.
Russia and China have, however, rightly kept the focus on the priority thing to do, which is for the US to return immediately and unconditionally to abiding by the JCPOA, including lifting all sanctions from Iran.
At a time of global pandemic and particular hardship for Iran it is morally imperative for the United States to end its unlawful and barbaric sanctions regime. The only way to build trust is for the Biden administration to reverse the violations. If the United States does not take the morally and legally honorable steps then the suspicion of an ulterior agenda will be fatal for resolving the impasse. The Biden team talks about “lengthening and strengthening” the accord. It sounds suspiciously like Washington is trying to extricate further concessions from Iran beyond the concessions that it had originally agreed to when the JCPOA was signed in 2015. Is the Biden administration pandering to its regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia who are implacably opposed to the accord? Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken have both stated publicly that this US administration will consult closely with Israel on all regional policies.
It is being reported that Europe is trying to facilitate “informal” talks between Iran and the United States. There should be no need for such cloak and dagger shenanigans. The Western powers can salvage the nuclear deal in a much more straightforward way – by honoring it.