Future of JCPOA: Not a Catastrophe for Iran

Those in the US politics who were behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as part of the fight against the “axis of evil” are now filled with nostalgia for their past “victories” and are eager to continue their policy of invasion, this time against Iran and the DPRK. However, taking into consideration the lessons learned during the preceding campaign, they want to bring about regime change in Iran through sanctions and similar measures, instead of going to war as they did in Iraq, writes Hossein Malaek, senior research fellow at the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), former ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the People’s Republic of China. 

Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal, thus putting the lid on many months of expectations by the Iranians and the entire world. It happened just a few days before the May 12 deadline set for announcing the decision on the JCPOA.

It has to be said that European leaders went to great lengths to persuade Trump not to pull out of the JCPOA, but neither Macron’s visit to the US with the touching photos of the two presidents, nor Merkel’s incredible flexibility, nor the message Theresa May conveyed to her US counterpart through her Foreign Secretary were able to influence the situation. Trump’s decision was disappointing for European leaders, which is as important as Ms. Mogherini’s attempts to salvage the JCPOA in terms of future developments.

Looking back, it can be argued that the vision behind the Iranian nuclear program was not well-laid-out, while covering a period of the next 20 years. When the 11th government was formed in Iran by President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, a decision was taken to reign in the nuclear program so as to create a foundation for launching talks on a nuclear deal. The talks between Iran and the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) resulted in the signing of an agreement that came to be known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the JCPOA.

The JCPOA is de facto a legal instrument drafted jointly with European experts. As for the United States, only one wing of the US political elite was represented at the talks. The officials from the Obama administration skillfully circumvented their opponents and signed the deal sidestepping the House and the Senate. At the same time, within just one week after the signing of the deal, Obama put Iran on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, thus undermining the meaning and spirit of the deal.

Of course, we had high hopes, since the deal was intended to put an end to the Iranian nuclear issue as well as to gradually lift the sanctions. However, after three years of diplomatic efforts, the US, and specifically the new administration, has made no progress in fulfilling its commitments.

The hope that the US was not going to withdraw from the JCPOA dwindled with the election of Trump, who represents the most belligerent wing of US capitalism, has no concern for human rights, inequality or the environment, and is known for his racist mentality and outright disdain for his black predecessor. Trump brought into power the most radical political forces, which did not make things any better. It all led to the withdrawal of the US from the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump’s decision created a new landscape with the following implications in terms of domestic and foreign policy:

It can be argued with a high degree of certainty that Trump’s decision will be a turning point, opening a new era in Iran’s international relations and relations with other countries, which will differ fundamentally from the previous period.

The position of the US toward Iran is determined by two factors. The political factor consists of countering the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic in general in order to undermine it and overthrow the regime. There is also a personal factor related to the election of Trump who wants to have everything as quickly as possible, which is a highly unfavorable factor.

Those in the US politics who were behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as part of the fight against the “axis of evil” are now filled with nostalgia for their past “victories” and are eager to continue their policy of invasion, this time against Iran and the DPRK. However, taking into consideration the lessons learned during the preceding campaign, they want to bring about regime change in Iran through sanctions and similar measures, instead of going to war as they did in Iraq. According to Trump, they have everything it takes to force Iran to negotiate on new terms.

Regime change in Iran is a key objective for the US and Israel. Over the past twelve months everyone in the US administration, from the President and his advisors to the Secretary of State, were talking about “regime change” in their statements and remarks on Iran, with the only exception of the Secretary of Defense.

They hope that the situation in Iran and the state of its economy will enable them to achieve their objective, even though Iran is now much more stable than they think; in addition to this, the lack of unity within the international community on this matter can also be an obstacle.

The decision to impose sanctions was based on a thorough analysis that led those who prepared them to believe that new sanctions would cause dismay in the Iranian society and overwhelm the government, which will lose control of the country; it remains to be seen whether this plan works, and whether the government is capable of managing a crisis.

The latest unrest in late December 2017 and early January 2018 led them to believe that Iran can be destabilized. Unfortunately, the Iranian government does not pay due attention to expert opinion and analytical reports, and its view on the situation in the country is fragmented. At the same time, reports drafted by economic and financial experts over the past few months show that people in charge of economic policy are unable to ensure proper economic governance and efficiency that is needed to counter the US. For example, the recent sharp depreciation of the national currency against the dollar is indicative of economic uncertainty in Iran and makes one doubt in the ability of financial and economic officials to run the economy.

When a senior official on a trip to Kurdistan says that he knows little about the hammals’ issue, i.e. the issue faced by a significant part of the region’s population, this suggests that these government officials would not be up to the task when it comes to resolving serious challenges or countering the crisis while facing pressure from the US and Israel. If you are not a master of your own home, there is always a threat that someone else will saunter along with their own rules.

In political terms the nuclear deal is not viable without the US. It can be said that it is dead, even though it should be preserved from a legal standpoint. European countries are interested in preserving the JCPOA in order to save their face and protect their interests, while the Iranian diplomacy also seeks to save what is left of the deal, which makes sense from a political perspective.

The withdrawal of the US from the JCPOA is not a catastrophe for Iran, but could create serious issues for Iran’s economic partners.

Trump and his associates have to act on a number of fronts at the same time: first of all, they need to counter their European allies who opposed the decision and were seriously disappointed when their position was ignored; secondly, they need to prepare a response to Iran’s possible retaliation; finally, the US needs to restore its own reputation, which is lost as regards honoring international commitments and agreements.

The Trump administration found itself in political isolation on the back of efforts by Iranian diplomats, preventing the emergence of any international alliance against Iran. In practical terms, the US does not need an alliance of any sort in order to pressure or sanction anyone. Trump has enough power and possibilities to carry out his robber policy. The only thing Iran can do is to create various obstacles for the US, even if they are minor, in order to prevent the US and Europe from following a single line.

Against this backdrop, the threat that uranium enrichment will resume, as a number of officials suggested, or the possible withdrawal of Iran from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) seem unreasonable. What are these threats for? What will they lead to? This will do nothing to help Iran, since what matters for us is to preserve the deal, even if it is “dead and mummified.”

The Iranian missile program is a sticking point. If the country is forced to give it up, this would undermine the country’s defenses and force its surrender. Not a single convention or international treaty contains provisions to this effect, and there is no reason why only Iran should be required to give up its weapons. European countries that are known for their commitment to the rule of law must understand that this issue should not be on the table despite any speculation by Israel.

We need a reasonable, balanced policy for countering pressure and settling domestic matters. We need to avoid ill-advised steps, since the other side will use any pretext to justify its belligerent hostility.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.