TEHRAN – The signing of the nuclear deal in 2015 was meant to herald the end of Iran’s international ostracism, but the withdrawal of the United States and rising tensions between Europe and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have left the multilateral treaty on the verge of collapse.
Lauded by the EU’s then head of foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, as a “historic” deal that was “good for all sides,” the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed on July 14, 2015 in Vienna after two years of long and hard negotiations.
The unprecedented agreement brought a decade-long nuclear crisis to an end. Under the terms of the deal, Iran’s atomic capabilities were limited to guarantee that the country would only use them for nuclear energy.
The treaty meant that “Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb,” former United States president Barack Obama had said in 2015.
The director for Nonproliferation Policy at the Arms Control Association, Kelsey Davenport, explains that the deal “diplomatically resolved a decades-long dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and significantly reduced the risk of conflict in the region.
“The combination of limitations and verification mechanisms blocked Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons and ensured stringent monitoring of the country’s peaceful nuclear program,” she tells EFE.TIPPING POINT
In its quarterly reports, the IAEA verified that Iran was keeping up its end of the deal, but that guarantee was not enough for Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, who pulled out of the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated.” His administration also reimposed economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The unilateral withdrawal left the JCPOA, which had also been signed by Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, with a hugely uncertain future.
Despite Washington’s action, Iran decided to continue adhering to the treaty’s requirements, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani waiting to see if the remaining signatories would hold up their end and help protect his country’s interests.
Iranian analyst and professor of political science at the University of Tehran, Foad Izadi, believes that “it would have been better for Iran to abandon the deal after the US withdrawal.” But now, two years later, he does not recommend that course of action because “it would not solve any problems.”
For Davenport, the “Trump administration has made it increasingly clear that its goal is to kill the JCPOA and ensure that there is no deal that a future administration can return to,” “so it behooves the remaining parties to the deal to redouble their efforts to protect the agreement.”CHANGE OF STRATEGY
Iran stayed patient for one year, while it assessed the remaining signatories’ ability to counteract or circumnavigate the US sanctions, which have major impacts on the global banking and oil sectors.
Europe did adopt a series of measures, such as the “blocking statute” that limits the impact of US sanctions on European companies that have dealings with Iran and the opening of a special trading mechanism known as Instex, but neither measure had the desired effect.
“The European have not officially abandoned the accord, but they have left it inactive because in practice they are not doing any of the things they should be doing under the deal,” Izadi tells EFE.
Drowning in a severe economic crisis due to the sanctions, with a devalued national currency and rampant inflation, Iran began applying increased pressure on the rest of the signatories in May 2019, one year on from the US withdrawal.
Rouhani announced that his country would no longer be fulfilling some of its obligations, which at that time were limits on stockpiling uranium and heavy water, while giving the signatories 60 days to resolve the restrictions on Iran’s banking system and the sale of oil.
After two months passed without any developments, Iran went a step further by starting to enrich uranium to higher-than-permitted levels. In January, Tehran stopped adhering to the limits stipulated in the JCPOA altogether.
Iranian officials, who have always insisted that their atomic program is peaceful, have nevertheless allowed IAEA inspections, although with some exceptions.RISING DISTRUST
The IAEA director-general, Rafael Grossi, last June described his “serious concern” over Iran’s refusal to grant inspectors access to two sites where undeclared nuclear material was found.
Shortly after, the IAEA governing board adopted its first resolution against Iran since 2015, measures that were backed by the three European nations (E3) and rejected by Russia and China.
That lack of cohesion was pounced on by Iranian foreign minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, who denounced the E3’s “total impotence in resisting the US bullying behind the facade,” accusing France, the UK and Germany of being “accessories to Trump and Netanyahu – and in no position to counsel Iran.”
Iranian authorities justify their refusals to allow international inspectors access to its nuclear sites by claiming the information had come from the Israeli secret services.
Tensions between Iran and Israel have also been escalating following a series of explosions and mysterious fires this month at sensitive sites in Iran, including the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, which Iranian officials blame on Israel.
For the US, the fight now turns to the arms embargo against Iran and which is due to be lifted in October, according to the United Nations Security Council resolution that validated the Iran nuclear accord and to which the US is firmly opposed.
“Extending the arms embargo is a sure-fire way to collapse the accord, as Iran has made clear that it will abandon the agreement altogether if the United States pursues snapback,” Davenport warns.