The Demise of Iran’s Nuclear Deal
This Events reportage was co-authored by Ezra Friedman.
On Thursday 24th of January 2018, Warwick’s Pugwash Society and Warwick’s International Relations Society hosted a truly captivating speaker, Ezra Friedman, to talk about the demise of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Friedman introduced his audience to the historical background of the Iran nuclear deal, our present-day situation which threatens international stability, and most importantly, an assessment of the potential consequences which may arise following the departure of the U.S. from the deal.
Mr. Friedman initiated by recounting the birth of the JCPOA on the 14th of July 2015 – an agreement between P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States — and Germany), the European Union and Iran. What did this mean for Iran? On the one hand, they agreed to cut their use of first and second generation centrifuges, eliminate their supply of medium-enriched uranium and cut the low-enriched uranium by 98%. Moreover, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was appointed to check Iran’s compliance with the deal by regularly checking Iran’s nuclear facilities as stipulated in the agreement. In exchange for Iran’s conformity with the terms set out within the accord, UN Security Council Resolution 2231 set out a schedule to gradually suspend and eventually lift UN-related sanctions, and the other parties, such as the EU and USA, agreed to do the same.
Regardless of its aim to secure Iran’s dubious nuclear program, the deal failed to cover issues regarding Iran’s regional policies, as well as intelligence and terror-related activities. Furthermore, the UN’s Security Council Resolution 2231 – which was meant to implement a multilateral regime calling for Iran to refrain from all ballistic missile activity including nuclear-capable missiles. The consequences of this omission can be seen in early January 2017, where reports regarding Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles (approximately twenty in the last two years) began to emerge and have continued into today where testing, use and proliferation is the norm.
As Mr. Friedman explained, U.S. President Donald Trump saw this as an occasion to maintain his 2016 electoral promise to withdraw from the agreement, and therefore enthusiastically pulled himself out of the Iran deal. He instead turned towards more decisive measures which can be seen as part of the U.S. government’s long-term maximum pressure campaign to counter the Iranian regime’s influence and activities. This includes, but is not limited to, the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, the country’s primary source of foreign currency, ultimately leading the national currency, the rial, plummeting over the past year amongst other factors leading to the current economic crisis. The Trump Administration has moreover revealed that their next targets include 50 banks, the national airline as well as 200 members of the shipping industry and vessels. The U.S. withdrawal from the agreement ended all of the economic benefits which had been granted by the U.S. under the agreement. U.S. temporary waivers on oil imports for eight individual countries has led to some minimal relief, allowing Iran’s oil sector to continue to function for the time being.
International reactions, as described by Warwick’s guest, have mainly condemned Trump’s reckless foreign policy. The EU, which is trying to maintain its goodwill and collaborative spirit, is introducing a mechanism to protect companies from US sanctions, also known as Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV). The US special envoy in Iran, Brian Hook, made clear that the users of the SPV would be targeted with sanctions. As of yet, Europe has yet to fully roll out the SPV though it will be hosted by France, run by a senior German economist with the United Kingdom as a major shareholder. The EU’s primary goal is to find a way to minimise the influence of the sanctions and to continue to honour the accord, but at the same time avoiding to antagonise the Trump Administration. Russia on the other hand, being not as exposed to U.S. sanctions, continues to pursue its support of Iran by purchasing and trading oil and gas from Iran’s region. This predominantly acts as a confirmation of the Russo-Iranian alliance in Syria. It is also unclear whether China, which currently buys around a third of Iran’ crude exports, has agreed to reduce oil imports from Iran as suggested by America.
Having given his audience substantial background knowledge to the JCPOA, Friedman proceeded to analyse the potential scenarios that may arise from this situation. Three significant possibilities were indicated. The first, proposes the continuation of the status quo, what was defined as “strategic patience and economic resistance” on the part of Iran. In this scenario, Iran’s main aim would be to patiently keep the state of affairs ongoing, continuing with its regional policies, support for terror/intelligence activities and intensification of its ballistic missile program. Iran would also attempt to wait out Donald Trump until the 2020 Presidential elections in America, hoping for the election of a Democratic candidate to overturn the decisions made by the Trump Administration. According to Mr. Friedman’s cost-benefit analysis, it is in Iran’s interest to stay in the deal and keeping the powers of the EU on its side. The second scenario presented was one where Iran was to pursue uranium enrichment and other activities, fully restarting its nuclear program, thereby withdrawing from the JCPOA though not violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Such a scenario would undermine the support of Western European powers to the JCPOA and potentially cause Europe to support the Trump Administration’s policies. The third scenario was referred to as “Singapore 2.0”. This essentially presupposes a new agreement between the U.S. and Tehran which serves as a symbolic demonstration of their willingness to collaborate on a comprehensive deal – the actual terms are deemed to be not as relevant. In reverse, a comprehensive deal is also possible, something that could have far-reaching consequences for the region.
A truly educative talk which gave the audience the chance to delve into the destabilising status quo which exists within the Middle East. Ezra Friedman shared his passion for the fields of global nuclear security and international relations and allowed us to take a glimpse of the future of what is now seen as one of the most threatening situations to the international order of the 21st century.