Is Iran nuclear deal doomed?

Is Iran nuclear deal doomed?
Iranian spokesperson Abbas Araghchi warned against the scrapping of the 2016 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA ensures that Iran curbs its nuclear..

Iranian spokesperson Abbas Araghchi warned against the scrapping of the 2016 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA ensures that Iran curbs its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Araghchi stated that Iran would withdraw from the deal if it saw no benefits. 

Israeli PM Netanyahu and US President Trump have criticised this deal repeatedly in the past few months.

Background

Iran is the second largest country in the Middle East, with a rich history and culture dating back to the 6th Century BC. However, modern day Iran is considered one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. The government of Iran has been criticized for restrictions and punishments that follow the Islamic Republic’s constitution and law.

Iran’s nuclear program was first launched in the 1950s, with help from the United States. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970. Support from the West continued until the Iranian Revolution and the ascent of Ayatollah Khomeini into power. Iran’s nuclear program has been a source of concern for the international community since then.

During the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) investigations in the country, it was revealed that Iran had not declared a number of its nuclear activities and was not in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  In 2006, the country also refused to suspend its uranium enrichment program. The United Nations consequently imposed a number of sanctions on the nation.

By 2015, the nation had lost billions of dollars due to these sanctions; an estimated $100 billion in oil revenue alone. It had also lost out on Foreign Direct Investment. In July 2015, Iran agreed to sign a nuclear agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) with major powers Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. According to the JCPOA, Iran would limit its nuclear ambitions in return for relief from a number of sanctions. The IAEA declared that Iran had complied with the terms of the provisional agreement and sanctions were lifted in 2016.

Analysis

Abbas Araghchi, spokesperson for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a speech this week that Iran would not continue to adhere to the deal if there is no benefit.

His comments come in the context of increased criticism of the JCPOA from the US administration. US President Trump refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal in October last year. He directed his administration to “address the deal’s many flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons.” Additionally, in January this year, Trump announced that he would extend the waiver of sanctions until Europe and the US could fix the deal. Washington hopes for the European allies to commit to improving the deal by May, in return for which it would renew sanctions relief.

Israel, Iran’s primary adversary, has also spoken against the deal. Like President Trump, Israel has cited three key defects in the JCPOA. The first is that the JCPOA does not address ballistic missiles. The second has to do with restrictions on the inspection of nuclear sites. The third is the “sunset clause”, which places a time limit of 10 years on the nuclear restrictions, after which they may begin to expire.

At the Munich Security Conference this month, Netanyahu reiterated his position to scrap Iran’s nuclear programme. “I think they’ll do nothing,” Netanyahu said, in regards to possible retaliation.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister responded: “I can assure that if Iran’s interests are not secured, Iran will respond… It would be a response that means people would be sorry for taking the erroneous action they did.”

Speaking from Chatham House in London, Araqchi said, “The deal would not survive this way even if the ultimatum is passed and waivers are extended.” The Foreign Ministry spokesperson made it clear that Iran would not “remain in a deal that has no benefit”. He warned that if the JCPOA did not hold up, the world could face another nuclear crisis.

“For the Europeans or the world community, when we talk about maintaining the JCPOA and saving it, it’s not a choice between Iranian or the U.S. market, it’s not a choice for economic cooperation: it’s a choice between having security and insecurity,” Araqchi said.

Later in an interview with the BBC, he added that the sunset clause was “not true”. "Iran’s commitment in the JCPOA not to go for the nuclear weapon is permanent," he said. Araqchi claimed that the development of ballistic missiles has to do with regional tensions—such as Syria—rather than nuclear ambition. The EU and France have repeatedly ratified their support for the JCPOA.

Assessment

Our assessment is that barring Washington, the nuclear deal has international support especially from the European Union. There are concerns that if Iran backs away from the nuclear deal, it will be difficult to regulate its nuclear programme. We believe that it will be necessary for Washington and its allies to come to a decision that ensures that the JCPOA remains in place. 

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