Uncertainties deepen within the international paradigm

Trump defies global consensus on Iran nuclear deal

Muhammad Zamir   | Published: May 20, 2018 21:22:02 | Updated: May 20, 2018 22:31:51


Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (second from left) takes part in a meeting with Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (first from right), German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (second from right), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (third from right) and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini (first from left), in Brussels, Belgium, on May 15, 2018. — Photo: Reuters

An interesting observation has been made by Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent, regarding the US decision to walk away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran nuclear deal. He has observed that "with a stroke of his pen US President Donald Trump has jeopardised the one agreement - good or bad - that seeks to constrain Iran's nuclear ambitions".

On  May 08 Trump launched a scathing assault on the deal approved and accepted by Iran in 2015 along with the five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany. The 2015 agreement curbed Iran's nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions that had been imposed by the UN, US and EU. On May 08 Trump spoke about existing deficiencies in the agreement but has not yet offered any alternative policy to put in its place. He called the Iran nuclear accord  a "horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made". He also said that he would work to find a "real, comprehensive, and lasting" deal that tackled not only the Iranian nuclear programme but its ballistic missile tests and activities across the Middle East. Mr Trump also said that he would reimpose economic sanctions that were waived when the deal was signed in 2015. The US Treasury, in the meantime, has commented that new US sanctions would target industries mentioned in the deal, including Iran's oil sector, aircraft manufacturers exporting to Iran and Iranian government attempts to buy US dollar banknotes.

It would be pertinent to point out that the JCPOA saw Iran agree to limit the size of its stockpile of enriched uranium, which is used to make not only reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons, for 15 years and the number of centrifuges installed to enrich uranium for 10 years. Iran also agreed to modify a heavy water facility so it could not produce plutonium suitable for a bomb. Since then Iran has always insisted that its nuclear programme was entirely peaceful, and that its compliance with the deal has been verified regularly by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which  has again said that Iran has been honouring its commitments. All countries, except the US, which signed up to the agreement also believe that Iran has been in full compliance with its terms.

Re-starting US sanctions would mean that major European and US companies are likely to be hit. Some exemptions are due to be negotiated but it is not yet clear what. The confusion about renewed sanctions has exacerbated with the comment made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who is reported to have said that European companies doing business in Iran would have to stop doing so within six months or face US sanctions.

This has put US perception of diplomacy pertaining to Iran on a collision course with some of Washington's closest allies, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union.

This development was also not consistent with the statement made earlier on  April 09 by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. To soothe growing tensions regarding the agreement, he had declared that although Iran's nuclear industry was advancing at a faster pace and could, if required ramp its uranium enrichment to 20 per cent on short notice, Iran believed that it needed "both hard and soft power" and was therefore more interested in pursuing "constructive engagement" with the world and remaining committed to the nuclear deal it had signed with world powers.

International response to the US decision has been one of anxiety and concern.

Russia has said that it was "deeply disappointed" by Mr Trump's decision. Yevgeny Serebrennikov, first deputy head of the defence and security committee in the Russian Upper House of Parliament, has told the RIA news agency that Trump's decision puts the Korean peace process in doubt. Vladimir Chizhov, Russian envoy to the European Union, has separately told RIA that Russia will continue efforts to keep the Iran nuclear deal functioning. China has also expressed regret.

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that the Iranian nuclear deal is "not dead" despite US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw. Johnson, British Foreign Affairs Minister, has commented that UK would not walk away from the Iran deal. In fact, efforts are underway to clarify country positions and move forward after the emergency meeting held in Brussels on 14 May between Iran, Britain, France and Germany. UK Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have emphasised their "continuing commitment" to the deal in a joint statement. EU High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini has said in a statement that as long as Iran remained committed, the EU would also continue "full and effective implementation" of the deal. European Council President Donald Tusk has also weighed in on Twitter. He has stated that a united European approach will be worked out in the next few days in the European Summit meeting to be held in Sofia.

The US decision has, however, been welcomed, as expected, by Iran's major regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

After Trump's decision, former US President Barack Obama has released a lengthy statement, calling Trump's decision "a serious mistake". He has defended the agreement his Administration helped negotiate. He has warned that "without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East."

It has been observed that Trump has, at times, framed his opposition to the Iran deal on very personal terms. He has repeatedly mocked former Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the architects of the agreement, on this issue. This has also been seen as Trump's effort to shred the Obama legacy.

Mr Trump, according to US and European media, had made motions toward, and then backed away from, formally pulling out of the Iran deal several times over the first year of his presidency. He was reportedly counselled against abandoning the agreement by senior advisers in his Administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor HR McMaster and Secretary of Defence James Mattis. Today, Mr Mattis is the only man left standing, and his influence appears to be waning. The other two have been replaced by Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, respectively, and both are considered Iran hawks. Consequently, where once the President might have been counselled to be cautious in abandoning US commitments to Iran, this time his instincts - an innate distrust of multilateralism in general and Iran in particular - appear to have been enthusiastically supported by those near to him.

It may be concluded that since assumption of his office 16 months ago, President Trump appears to have, finally, constituted "a foreign policy team that is largely on the same page - his page".

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.

muhammadzamir0@gmail.com

 

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