Iran’s Twofold Approach to Save the JCPOA

On July 28, Austrian capital Vienna hosted an extraordinary meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to discuss the latest developments regarding the 2015 nuclear deal and how to save it from a total collapse. 

The meeting, which was held at the level of political directors from Iran and the P4+1 (Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) came less than a month after Tehran decided to take the second step in scaling back its nuclear commitments, in response to Europe’s failure to safeguard Iran’s benefits from the JCPOA. As such, at the top of the agenda of the latest meeting were Iran’s demands for concrete steps from the Europeans to fix the imbalance in the deal and the other parties’ request that Iran avoid further reducing its nuclear commitments. 

In a statement issued after the meeting, the European Union once again stressed the importance of saving the JCPOA. Meanwhile, despite calling the meeting’s atmosphere “constructive,” Iran’s top representative at the meeting Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said, “I cannot say that we resolved everything, I can say there are lots of commitments.” 

In fact, this was a clear signal that while remaining committed to continuing diplomatic interactions with the remaining parties of the deal, Tehran is in no way satisfied with the real results of such exchanges. In this vein, just one day after the Vienna meeting, on July 29, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi warned the three European signatories to the nuclear deal that if they once again fail to meet Iran’s demands, the Islamic Republic would not hesitate to take the third step in reducing its commitments. 

As such, one may wonder why, despite repeatedly criticizing the E3 for their inability or unwillingness to withstand the American “maximum pressure” policy, Iran is still interested in maintaining the existing format of diplomatic interactions for saving the JCPOA? 

The main logic behind this decision is Iran’s attempt to introduce itself as a responsible actor, committed to the rules of international law, as well as multilateral diplomacy. As part of its policy of maximizing pressure against Iran, the United States has been trying to depict Iran as a “pariah state” and a destabilizing force on the international scene that have to be contained. In fact, by withdrawing from the JCPOA and re-imposing sanctions against Tehran, Washington hoped to provoke Iran into leaving the deal, so that it would be easier to gather international support for pressuring the Islamic Republic. 

Surprisingly, not only Iran did not leave the JCPOA, but started an intense campaign to push the European parties of the deal toward choosing a different path and openly rejecting the US approach. Tehran even insists that the decision to scale back its nuclear commitments is based on the JCPOA itself, in line with the articles 26 and 36 of the deal. Iranian officials have also declared that the country is ready to return to the previous level of nuclear commitments as soon as the European parties fulfill their own undertakings. 

As such, underlining the necessity of honoring international rules and commitments, and supporting multilateral diplomacy as the only viable solution to the growing American unilateralism, have become the main features of Iran’s foreign policy. 

At the current moment, Tehran’s main demand from the Europeans is to guarantee a certain level of Iran’s oil export to the global market and the return of its revenues. Iranian officials have also been persistently saying that the Europe’s special purpose mechanism for financial interactions with Iran, known as INSTEX, would be meaningless without covering the oil issue. In this vein, while declaring serious willingness to preserve the JCPOA, Iran is expected to continue using the measures of multilateral diplomacy and nuclear pressure – in terms of threatening to further revising its JCPOA commitments – to push the Europeans toward fully abiding by their commitments.

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