JCPOA in Сrisis: What Can the Europeans and Russia Do?

One year after the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal (JAPOA) with Iran and as a result of Washington’s campaign of maximizing pressures on the Islamic Republic, which has blocked Iran’s access to the real benefits of the deal, Tehran decided to decrease its commitments under the JCPOA.

The Islamic Republic has made the decision based on the terms of the deal itself, which allows Iran to cease fulfilling its commitments in whole or in part in case of a “fundamental non-compliance” of another party.

However, in contrast to the general narrative shaped in the mainstream media, the move does not mean Iran’s “partial withdrawal” from the JCPOA. In fact, at the same time as announcing the new measures, Tehran has made it clear that it’s ready to return to the previous level of commitments if the European parties fulfill their commitments on providing Iran with the supposed economic benefits of the deal.

At the same time, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made it clear that Iran is going to give diplomacy another chance by giving the Europeans a 60-day period to prove their desire for saving the deal.

Adopting such a position, together with refusing from taking more serious steps like restricting international inspections of its nuclear program, can be considered as a positive signal from Iran, meaning that it still pins hopes on the possibility of saving the JCPOA.

At the same time, it’s a clear message indicating that unlike what the United States and some European countries have tried to achieve, Tehran is not going to make any new concessions and expects the European side to take new steps instead. In fact, in the Iranian viewpoint, the ball is now on the Europeans’ court to fully operationalize the expected mechanisms for allowing economic interactions with Iran in the period of increasing US sanctions.

Nonetheless, the positive signal of Iran’s desire to stick to the diplomatic course could be overshadowed by the negative signal of Europe’s inability or unwillingness to effectively resist the US pressures and establish meaningful channels for interactions with Iran.

Even the joint statement of the European Union and the E3 (Germany, Britain and France) in reaction to Iran’s decision did not went further than expressing commitment to save the JCPOA, while at the same time, rejecting Iran’s 60-day deadline. This could be interpreted as Europe’s lack of self-confidence, in terms of an ability to translate its political will to save the deal into concrete measures for doing so.

These two contradictory courses lead us to a complex situation, in which the very future of the JCPOA is faced with serious uncertainties. Here, another factor seems to be at play, i.e. the difference in the logic behind the Iranian and European approaches toward the deal. The Europeans seem to consider their political support for Iran in face of the US pressures as a sign of an independent policy, expecting Tehran to take that as a sufficient incentive to stay in the deal. However, for the Iranian side, the political support would mean nothing if not accompanied by real economic benefits.

In fact, what the Europeans often tend to ignore or sideline in their analyses is a growing dissatisfaction among the Iranian people over the failure of the JCPOA to improve their living conditions and alleviate the negative effects of the US sanctions. Such a dissatisfaction leads to more pressures on the Iranian government, facing it with the risk of losing domestic prestige. In this vein, the latest Iranian move on the JCPOA was more a response to the increasing public pressures than a diplomatic maneuvering to intimidate the other side to give more concessions.

As such, it seems that the solution to the unfolding crisis lies in the economy. In other words, the only way to save the deal at the current situation is for the Europe to speed-up the work of the special mechanism for financial interactions with Iran (INSTEX) and to offer real solutions to reduce the negative economic impacts of the American sanctions.

Meanwhile, Washington will most likely continue to increase pressures on Iran, hoping that at some point, this would cause Iran to come to the negotiating table according to Washington’s own terms. In fact, the US policy is more of a “wait and see” nature right now, with no concern over a potential collapse of the JCPOA. That’s because, according to what appears to be the Trump administration’s logic, the collapse of the current deal is a necessary development to start working on a new one.

Finally, it should be noted that even in the remaining parties of the deal, there’s no unified position on how to find a way out of the current situation. The Europeans are insisting on the necessity of Iran’s full compliance to the deal while offering no clear solution. Meanwhile, China has adopted a rather ambiguous position, calling on “all parties” to live up to their commitments.

The clearest position so far has come from Russia, which has admitted the Europeans’ failure to fulfill their commitments, while appearing determined to preserve and expand ties with Iran. In the economic terms, Iran and Russia have been continuing their interactions despite the US sanctions. As a result, it seems that there’s little left Russia can do and Iran’s expectations in this regard are mostly directed toward the Europe.

However, Iran may be counting on Russia’s political support at the UN, should the Europeans decide to side with the US and revive international sanctions on Iran with the pretext of not being fully committed to the JCPOA.

Iran’s Ultimatum to Europe: Is the JCPOA Doomed?
Andrey Kortunov
As for the 60-day period, this is a much more serious ultimatum, addressed primarily to the European parties of the agreement. From this we can conclude that Iran does not consider their efforts to create separate trading mechanisms sufficient to fulfil the JCPOA’s conditions. Since it is obvious that for Russia and China, US sanctions are not so important and fundamental, the ball is being thrown to the Europeans.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.