Can the Iran Nuclear Deal Survive?

Most likely, no one will dare give a confident answer to this question. Too many factors could influence the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

Will President Donald Trump be consistent in imposing “unprecedentedly tough” sanctions on the Iranian regime and take secondary sanctions against the European countries whose companies continue cooperating with Tehran? Will the European parties to the deal have enough political will and legal wherewithal to resist US pressure? Will Tehran have enough strategic restraint and presence of mind to not provoke Washington and Tel Aviv into a power confrontation with Iran? If the three European countries – Britain, France and Germany – yield to US pressure, can China, Russia and other countries replace the Europeans in trade and economic ties to a great enough extent to prevent Iran’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the dangerous escalation of its nuclear activities?

In the early hours of May 10, a day after the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Israel launched a missile attack on “Iranian military facilities” in Syria, allegedly to punish the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for having fired 20 missiles at Israeli military positions. This happened in the Golan Heights area, where, to believe the Israelis, some elements of Iran’s Al-Quds unit are deployed. The attack killed a number of Syrians. During the period of hostilities, the Israeli military launched over 100 strikes at the Iranian contingent in Syria, which cooperates with the Russian force. But Moscow never retaliated against Israel, nor even criticized it, although occasionally Russian military equipment that had been sold to Iran came under fire.

Today, we are seeing a sharp escalation of mutual accusations and hostile rhetoric between Washington and Tehran. The 12 points of the new US strategy on Iran made public by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the key demands to stop all nuclear activity, provide unlimited access to military facilities, renounce the missile program and curb its “destabilizing” activity in the region sound like nothing less than an ultimatum.

Naturally, Tehran dismissed these demands out of hand and set forth its own, equally tough terms for the preservation of the nuclear deal. The key term is a guarantee for the purchase of Iranian oil by EU countries in the current amounts. Indicatively, these terms are addressed directly to the European countries because Iran, to quote its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, believes that the US is an untrustworthy and obdurate partner. Moreover, the Khamenei instructed the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to prepare to build up its uranium enrichment and plutonium processing capacities. In this way, Iran is making it clear that it will walk out on the JCPOA and resume the development of its nuclear program if its interests are not met.

Based on the new Pompeo-presented US strategy on Iran, Washington believes that the introduction of tough sanctions and the strengthening of political and economic pressure on Iran will lead to serious aggravation of its domestic socio-economic issues and compel its authorities to sit at the negotiating table on US terms. If this does not happen, the regime will be replaced as a result of mounting public protests. This shows how little the current US administration knows about the mentality and psychology of the Iranians and real life in that country, or completely ignores it. During its almost 40-year history, the Islamic Republic of Iran has encountered serious external threats more than once, but they have only united the people and enhanced their will to resist. As for a regime change, this is highly unlikely for now and in the foreseeable future. There is no sense of revolutionary mentality in Iran. The most active and numerous part of the population – the younger generation – is not ready for radical action as was the case 40 years ago. There is no strong or organized opposition in the country. The authorities and law enforcement agencies confidently control the situation and curb any manifestation of dissent. Having discredited itself through its support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war and terrorist attacks against Iranian officials, the once powerful and influential left-wing radical People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) is now in exile. Ethnic minorities in Iran generally find a common language with the central authorities and are reluctant to confront Iran’s security and law-enforcement agencies, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In a reckless decision, the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement – signed back in July 2015 as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – and reinstated all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran on May 8. Given the secondary nature of the sanctions, all companies trading with and investing in Iran are bound to wind down their contracts within 90 to 180 days. Trump has decided to please his voter base with the termination of the deal. He went on with his notorius ambition to deconstruct Obama’s legacy and gave in to his hawkish advisers. In addition, Israel and Saudi Arabia had lobbied hard with Trump to nix the deal.

Indicatively, the Iranian authorities, including the Supreme Leader Khamenei, are well aware of the importance of preserving the JCPOA even without US participation. Therefore, despite its anti-American and anti-Western rhetoric, threats and ultimatums, Tehran continues to abide by its commitments under the Vienna agreements and is holding active talks and consultations with the other participants in the nuclear deal. Iran wants to develop ways to minimize the consequences of the forthcoming US sanctions and preserve at least the minimally acceptable terms and trade and economic bonuses that would justify its continued participation in the JCPOA.

Iran hopes that this time the EU will be more resolved to uphold its trade, economic and geopolitical interests in Iran under conditions of growing inter-Atlantic disagreements and the trade war that is de facto breaking out between the US and the EU countries.

Iran is also pegging big hopes on China and Russia in the belief that their independent foreign policy and growing economic potential will facilitate the survival of the nuclear deal as a major achievement of nuclear non-proliferation and a regional stability-building factor.

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