On October 13, US President Donald Trump, as part of his confrontational strategy, announced his plan to withdraw US backing from the existing multi-party nuclear accord with Iran.
Analysts have pointed out that this move would not mean immediate withdrawal.
The US congress will have 60 days to decide whether to do so and also whether they can re-impose sanctions.
Trump has also remarked: “In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.
It is under continuous review and our participation can be cancelled by me, as president, at any time.”
It may be recalled that the deal was signed in October 2015 and implemented at the start of 2016, following years of negotiation between the US, represented by then-Secretary of State John Kerry, and Iran, represented by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Members of the international community involved in drafting the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers included -- the US, UK, France, China, and Russia plus Germany.
Iran also agreed ...
The agreement required Iran to completely eliminate stockpiles of medium-enriched uranium and drastically reduce reserves of low-enriched uranium.
Iran also agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for the partial lifting of sanctions.
This deal also required the US president to certify every 90 days that Iran was upholding its part of the agreement.
Such certification had already been done by Trump twice since his assumption of office.
The third was due in the near future.
Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives has called Trump’s move “a grave mistake” that threatens the country’s security and credibility.
She has also said that Trump had ignored “the overwhelming consensus of nuclear scientists, national security experts and the views of his secretary of defense and secretary of state.”
Opposition to the Iran deal as it stands is likely to face resistance from members of the minority Democratic Party, as well as some Republicans, such as Senator Lindsay Graham, who has called on Trump to renegotiate parts of the agreement instead of scrapping it entirely.
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but also lifted some sanctions that had stopped Iran from trading on international markets and selling its energy resources.
Iran, under this agreement, also approved in principle to permit Inspectors from the IAEA, the global nuclear watchdog, to continuously monitor Iran’s declared nuclear sites and also verify that no fissile material is moved covertly to a secret location to build a bomb.
Iran also agreed to implement the Additional Protocol to their IAEA Safeguards Agreement, which would allow inspectors to access any site anywhere in the country they deemed as suspicious.
Iran also agreed to the continuation of the UN arms embargo on the country for up to five years; although it could end earlier if the IAEA was satisfied that its nuclear program was entirely peaceful.
Sanctions imposed by the UN, US and EU eventually forced Iran to accept these conditions and in keeping with the spirit of JCPOA, by January 2016, Iran had drastically reduced the number of centrifuges installed at Natanz and Fordo, and shipped tons of low-enriched uranium to Russia.
These sanctions had crippled its economy, costing the country more than $160 billion in oil revenue since 2012 alone.
Iran also understood that by agreeing, it stood not only to gain access to more than $100 billion in assets frozen overseas but also that it would be able to resume selling oil on international markets and using the global financial system for trade.
International response to Trump’s statement has been critical to say the least. European leaders have taken the unusual step of publicly calling on the US to abide by the deal
Later on, consistent with JCPOA, $100bn of frozen Iranian assets were released and Iran was also allowed to trade its oil and gas in the world market, allowing it to earn over $41bn in the fiscal year that ended in March 2017.
The prospect of peace also encouraged tourism to Iran. During the same period, tourism revenue increased, hitting six million visitors, with estimated revenue of $8bn.
International response to Trump’s statement has been critical to say the least. European leaders have taken the unusual step of publicly calling on the US to abide by the deal and have affirmed that Iran is upholding its commitments under JCPOA.
In response to Trump, as expected, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said the US could not change the undertakings within the deal unilaterally.
More than mere quotes
Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has noted that Iran was implementing the deal and was subject to “the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime.”
Similarly, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has described the deal as “robust” and said there had been “no violations” by Iran.
She has also remarked that it was not in the power of “any president in the world” to terminate the agreement.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed “hopes” that the nuclear deal with Iran can be salvaged as this has been a “very important breakthrough to consolidate nuclear non-proliferation and advance global peace and security.”
In a joint statement, the UK, Germany, and France while expressing their concern about Mr Trump’s move have reiterated that they remained committed to the deal.
The British Embassy in Washington, DC has also taken the unusual step of posting an animation on Twitter showing how Iran was complying with the deal.
French President Macron has also told the US that not honouring its side of the deal could push Iran into producing a nuclear weapon in the future.
Russia has said it that it remained committed to the deal and was opposed to the use of “aggressive and threatening rhetoric in international relations.”
On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has congratulated Mr Trump for having “boldly confronted Iran’s terrorist regime.” Saudi Arabia, as expected, has also backed the US President’s “firm strategy.”
Ultra-conservative supporters of Trump have, however, remarked that this outpouring of support for Iran by Europe is because European states have enjoyed burgeoning trade ties with Iran since the deal came into force. They are pointing out that Europe is worried that US breaches of the deal might now damage Europe’s reputation as a reliable partner.
I will conclude with observations made by some analysts. It might help readers to make up their mind. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam of the School of African and Oriental Studies, London has mentioned that such a step would create a view that the US was an international troublemaker rather than the creator of peace.
Ted Regencia has noted that Iranian political observers are warning that Trump’s threat could demoralise reformists and embolden the hardliners within Iran, and send Iran back to a period of political uncertainty and economic recession that would have a disruptive osmotic effect on the region.
Lastly, Ibrahim Al-Marashi has drawn attention to the fact that Iraq will have new parliamentary elections in 2018 and a disgruntled Iran could easily generate uncertainty in the formation of the next Iraqi central government and with it instability. λ
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at m[email protected]