As the US presidential election draws near, the “beacon of democracy” appears to be plunging deeper and deeper into chaos, with violence, lawlessness and rights abuses reaching levels previously unseen over the past 70 years. Ill-advised and heavy-handed actions taken by current US President Donald Trump and his administration have resulted in very serious domestic problems, ranging from the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic to protests and nation-wide unrest in numerous towns and cities, prompted by brutality and racism exhibited by the US police forces towards African Americans.
In an attempt to extricate themselves from the difficult situation they put themselves in, the US leadership managed to add fuel to the fire on the domestic and global political arena by making a decision to put a complete end to the Iran nuclear deal. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US would cancel the last remaining sanctions waivers from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
The waivers “allowed other countries to work on Iran’s civil nuclear projects without penalties”. However, some nations could choose to defy the United States. Other signatories still wish to salvage the Iran deal. For instance, Russia and China condemned the cancellation, while France, Germany and Great Britain expressed their regret about “the US decision to end the three waivers covering key JCPOA” projects. According to the “joint statement by spokespersons of the High Representative of the European Union and the Foreign Ministries of France, Germany and the United Kingdom”, these projects, endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, “serve the non-proliferation interests of all and provide the international community with assurances of the exclusively peaceful and safe nature of Iranian nuclear activities”. “The JCPOA is a key achievement of the global non-proliferation architecture and currently the best and only way to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” said the press release.
Russia criticized the decision, taken by the Trump administration, by saying that Washington’s actions were “becoming more and more dangerous and unpredictable”. Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov sent a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres saying that Moscow was against reimposing the arms embargo on Iran. “Statements that the United States is not planning to return to its commitments under JCPOA, but intends to make use of the rights that allegedly stem from UN Security Council Resolution 2231, sound ridiculous and irresponsible,” stated the Russian diplomat.
In 2018, Donald Trump signed an executive order reimposing certain sanctions on Iran’s energy, shipping, and shipbuilding sectors and port operators. In addition, the document authorized the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to impose sanctions on financial institutions, automotive and petrochemical sectors. The US leadership appears to believe that additional restrictions on Iran’s petroleum industry could reduce the nation’s manufacturing segment, which may result in further political and financial instability. Experts also think that earnings from these sectors make a substantial contribution to strengthening the Iranian regime. In addition, a bill to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) ought to be introduced in US Congress, which the US President could then sign into law. However, how effective such legislation would be remains to be seen as Iran is not just another US state.
It is quite clear that Donald Trump’s aim is to close all windows of opportunity for Iran and to force Tehran to either withdraw from the nuclear deal or to openly violate it, thus bringing the JCPOA closer to “death”. The US Congress has also demonstrated its keenness to help the President achieve the aforementioned goal. A group of over 140 Republican representatives had urged “US Congress to implement its toughest sanctions yet on Iran, whose rogue regime” remained extremely dangerous. The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus for 147 conservative House representatives, had put forth a detailed proposal outlining policy suggestions related to Iran, Russia, China, and other countries it had deemed pose a threat to the US. The proposal, authored by 13 members of the RSC, recommended that “Congress put in place new measures to respond to strategic threats” posed by China and Russia as well as Iran in order to stop the latter’s “support of terrorism, destabilizing behavior in the region, development of ballistic missiles, and nuclear program”. The document also called for US Congress to “expand sanctions on Iran and enhance President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign”, and to specifically target “several Iranian officials and industries”.
It is fairly obvious that the Trump administration’s decision to exert more pressure on Iran may be aimed at forcing Tehran to completely withdraw from the nuclear deal. However, it is unlikely that Iran will make such a radical move or, at least, it will not do so in the next few months. Clearly, the Iranian regime will be able to withstand US pressure until the end of the year, in the hopes that Donald Trump will lose the presidential election in November. And although presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is not Iran’s best friend, he did serve as the Vice President during US President Barack Obama’s term, during which the Iran deal was signed. Irrespective of whether Joe Biden will be elected President or not, a renegotiation of several clauses of the nuclear agreement is unavoidable. In addition, Iran has started appointing more hard-liners to important political positions.
For instance, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the former Mayor of Tehran and the Commander of Revolutionary Guards’ Air Force, was appointed by the Parliament of Iran to be its Speaker, thereby increasing control over this body as tensions between Iran and the United States continue to rise. The Tehran Times reported that in his first address to the Parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said “negotiations and compromise with the United States, as the axis of global arrogance”, would be “considered fruitless and harmful”. Still, Iran will most likely be willing to engage in talks if such an opportunity presents itself. The only question remaining, according to experts, is with whom and on what terms.
In the meantime, Iran stated it was ready to resolve any issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and expressed its disappointment in a note circulated on June 11 “over the IAEA’s latest report complaining of blocked access”. According to media outlet Bourse & Bazaar, the explanatory note to the IAEA, dated June 8 from the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Vienna, said Iran “had held meetings with agency representatives in Tehran on April 29 and May 16 to discuss the access issues, followed by written correspondence and a fresh proposal to meet with IAEA representatives”. The article also stated that Tehran insisted it “continued its constructive engagement with the agency during the past two months, with a view to reach a common understanding… which would pave the way for the resolution of concerned issues”.
In addition, the report said Iran argued that “the requests for access” were based on “fabricated information, accusing the United States and Israel of trying to exert pressure on the agency”. According to Al Jazeera, in a separate report, the IAEA warned that Iran “enriched uranium stockpile almost eight times” the limit set in the nuclear deal the country had signed with world powers in 2015. The Bourse & Bazaar article concluded that Tehran had been “progressively breaking restrictions laid down in the 2015 deal in retaliation for US withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and its subsequent re-imposition of sanctions”.
Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Twitter post that the IAEA “Board of Governors should not allow JCPOA enemies to jeopardize Iran’s supreme interests”. Addressing the three European signatories (E3) to the Iran nuclear deal, he added “E3 should not be an accessory, after failing own JCPOA duties. We’ve nothing to hide. More inspections in Iran over the last 5 years than in IAEA history”. The author would also like to add that Washington has no right to assess the effectiveness of JCPOA, which it withdrew from and no longer has any legal ties to. After all, who gave Donald Trump’s administration, in its bellicose state, the right to tell other nations, located many hundreds of kilometers away from the North American continent, how to deal with their own affairs, when Washington has been unable to re-establish law and order within its own borders?
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.