Iran’s nuclear agreement may be back to square one, as a new crisis looms.
American President Donald Trump has criticized the nuclear deal with Iran by claiming that Tehran is not committed to fulfilling the requirements of the agreement. Trump warned that the United States may end its commitment to the deal, although under U.S. law, the Iranian agreement is not a formal treaty or even an executive agreement; it is simply a non-binding political agreement. It is expected that Trump will end U.S. participation in the deal. He has accused Tehran of “failing to act in the spirit of the nuclear deal” stressing that America’s goal is to ensure that the Iranian regime cannot build a nuclear weapon.
Three Arab Gulf states — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — have welcomed the new strategy announced by President Trump, which is designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, supporting terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East. The governments of the three countries announced their complete support for the new American strategy towards Iran and renewed their commitment to work with Washington to counter Iran’s support for extremism. Saudi Arabia’s statement said that “Iran took advantage of the economic growth after lifting economic sanctions and used it to continue destabilizing the region, especially through the program of developing ballistic missiles and support for terrorism in the region, including Hezbollah and Houthi militias. Iran has not only done this, but in blatant violation of international resolutions, has given military aid to Iranian-backed militias, including the Houthi militia, which used those missiles to target Saudi territory.”
The dispute between the United States and its European allies over the Iranian agreement has recently gained intensity, as President Trump threatened to withdraw from the nuclear deal if Congress and US allies fail to address what he called the agreement’s “shortcomings,” and promised to impose “harsh sanctions” on Tehran.
On the other hand, the European participants in the accord defend Iran by saying that the Iranian government is committed to the nuclear agreement signed in June of 2015. In addition to Iran, the signatories were the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
Trump’s New Strategy
Although President Trump did not go so far as to declare a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, he threatened to do so if Iran failed to comply with a new set of conditions. In fact, Trump initially intended to withdraw from the agreement, but his senior advisors, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, warned him against it. Their advice was to draw up a new set of conditions for Iran to commit to; if Tehran refuses, then the U.S. can withdraw from the agreement and blame Iran for it. According to Tillerson, this will be an American attempt “to reform the agreement […] If we fail, we may end up outside.”
In practical terms, unilateral withdrawal from the agreement may not be possible. In addition, such a precipitous departure runs the risk of causing serious diplomatic problems. The reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as the America’s European allies, plus members of the 5 + 1 group, have already confirmed Iran’s compliance with the 2015 agreement, and rejected U.S. plans to alter it. The Secretaries of Defense and State, along with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford, have repeatedly affirmed Iran’s commitment to the terms of the agreement and argued that it is in America’s interest to remain in the deal, especially in light of the recent nuclear escalation by North Korea.
Trump’s new strategy has four key points: First, working with allies to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activities and support for its terrorist agents in the region.” Second, imposing additional sanctions on the Iranian regime to prevent it from “financing terrorism.” Third, countering Iran’s deployment of missiles and other weapons, which he said are “threatening its neighbors, global trade, and free navigation.” Fourth, closing of all avenues by which Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon.
Trump has laid out three main steps to achieve these goals.
The first involves sanctioning the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC); Trump has authorized the US Treasury to impose sanctions on IRGC and its officials, agents and affiliated groups. But he did not go so far as to classify IRGC a “foreign terrorist organization,” which would prevent the U.S. from legally working with them as well as with Iran, over such issues as Iraq. The second step calls for imposing inclusive sanctions on Iran, outside the nuclear deal, and targeting its ballistic missiles system, support for terrorism and destabilizing activities in the region, plus urging U.S. allies to join in the sanctions. The last step involves refusal to certify Iran’s commitment to the agreement. According to Trump, the “aggressive behavior” of the Iranian regime, along with its continued development of a missile program, has doubled since the signing of the nuclear deal, especially after the easing of economic sanctions on Iran. Yet, the Iran Nuclear Review Act, enacted by Congress in 2015, requires the U.S. president or his representative to ensure that suspension of sanctions under the agreement are “appropriate and proportionate” with Iran’s measures to end its nuclear project.
The European Position
Under the agreement, Tehran agreed to restrict its nuclear program, in exchange for the easing of international sanctions. An international analysis of the situation suggests that the European position of defending Iran against the United States is more closely related to economic interests than to commitment to the principles of international law. Iran has seen increased attention from foreign investors, because of its rich oil and natural gas reserves, along with its large market and cheap labor costs – for example, the expected $5 billion deal between Tehran and Total, the giant French oil company.
After work had begun on the nuclear agreement in early 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted the embargo, imposed since 1980, on the sale of civil aircraft to Iran.
As the European Union lifted its sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranian government began buying planes from both the American Boeing Corporation and the French Airbus.
The U.S. may yet resort to unilateral sanctions on Iran, which might cause a fracture in Washington’s relations with European countries that would be difficult to repair later. American sanctions run the risk of causing problems for European companies investing in Iran, including the possibility of being sanctioned by the United States on charges of cooperation with Iran, with resulting denial of access to the U.S. market.
The European Union said in a statement that they believe the Iran nuclear deal, which has taken 12 years to negotiate, is one of the most important pillars of nuclear disarmament in the world. The statement pointed out that the IAEA had confirmed Iran’s commitment to the content of the agreement on eight separate occasions, which contributed to the survival of Iran’s nuclear program for peaceful purposes. The European Union will continue supporting the nuclear agreement with Iran, especially now, when nuclear threats are cropping up elsewhere in the world. The EU has also pointed out that lifting the sanctions imposed on Iran has contributed to the promotion of trade cooperation and the establishment of dialogue between the countries involved.
With Trump’s new policy towards Tehran, all options related to Iran’s nuclear deal seem complex and difficult. The only clear thing about the American policy of returning to escalation with Iran, is that matters can only get worse.
Gulf International Forum