After Tehran took the line at renouncing its obligations under certain provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a question has arisen about when it will pull out of the nuclear deal altogether.
In the conditions of an escalating conflict with Washington, Tehran has said it suspends compliance with a part of its obligations regarding the stocks of low-enriched uranium and heavy water in the country. Iran signed an obligation to sell the excessive amounts of uranium and heavy water abroad over a period of fifteen years as part of its agreement with the P5+1 group of international mediators (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany). The JCPOA the Islamic Republic to possess of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium and 130 tonnes of heavy water, but now Tehran has decided to change its stance.
The Iranian officials explain for their steps by citing the actions of the Americans, who have resumed the anti-Iranian sanctions, and by the inability of remaining signatories to the JCPOA to settle the situation.
The official spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi, said on June 17 Iran was planning to boost the output of low-enriched uranium as of June 27. He added that the country would exceed the limits of low-enriched uranium reserves specified by JCPOA after this date.
June 27 marks the end of the 60-day ultimatum that President Hassan Rouhani set for the trio of European nations (Germany, France, and the UK). He demanded that the JCPOA signatory nations take resolute steps towards setting up a special mechanism for financial transactions (INSTEX) that would make it possible to trade with Iran – in the oil sector, first and foremost – in bypass of the U.S. sanctions. Nonetheless, neither France nor Germany made any noticeable efforts to meet Tehran’s aspirations. Such steps are hardly in the cards, since the globalism-oriented President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel found Iran’s harsh rhetoric unwelcome. They did not announce any specific measures to keep the JCPOA in place.
Merkel said Iran’s refusal to continue abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal would be fraught with consequences.
As for Macron, he voiced regrets over Iran’s statement on the plans to exceed the limits for uranium enrichments stipulated by the 2015 nuclear deal.
“I regret Iran’s announcements today… We strongly encourage Iran to behave in a way that is patient and responsible,” Macron said at a news conference in Paris, which he addressed together with visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The UK has taken the most unusual position on the Rouhani ultimatum. On the background of passions around the JCPOA and in contrast with other European signatories, the British authorities tapped a way to compensate for the U.S. withdrawal from the deal, thus showing they had done at least something to answer the demands in the framework of the ultimatum.
Their move consists in paying out £ 1.3 billion on a lawsuit filed by Iran’s Bank Mellat ten years ago. The Iranian bank launched the legal action in the wake of the sanctions that London introduced in 2009, blocking the bank’s business with the British financial sector over the alleged connection of its operations with the nuclear program ran by Tehran. Litigations at the British judiciary were stalled for a decade and then, all of a sudden, London passed a surprise decision. This certainly does not look like evidence of fairness or independence of the UK’s judiciary system.
President Hassan Rouhani, on his part, issued a new reminder to the European trio, warning them they were running out of time to rescue the JCPOA on the Iranian nuclear program or to fulfill their own obligations under it. Otherwise Iran will resume uranium enrichment and will begin modernization of its pressurized heavy water reactor in Arak, he said.
As he accepted credentials from the new French ambassador to Iran, Philippe Thiebaud, Rouhani said the current situation was really critical and other signatory nations of the JCPOA still had a limited opportunity to play a historic role in rescuing the deal.
“There is barely any doubt that neither Iran nor France nor this region nor the whole world will benefit from the collapse of the JCPOA,” Rouhani said.
Besides, Iran has said that, in the absence of a reaction on the part of the trio, it will not prolong the 60-day moratorium aimed at enabling Germany, France and the UK to resume compliance with their duties under the JCPOA, Behrouz Kamalvandi said.
“We cannot stay committed to our obligations unless the European countries do something practical,” Kamalvandi said.
And yet one should hardly expect that Iran will really resort to this drastic response even if the Europeans refuse to meet Rouhani’s demand. It will unlikely pull out of the nuclear deal, like the U.S. did a year ago. Tehran has several reasons for not doing so.
An instantaneous withdrawal from the nuclear deal will tarnish the prestige of President Hassan Rouhani and his team of ministers representing the Omid (Hope) group. Rouhani’s – and his team’s – main objective is to rid the country of the yoke of economic and financial sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the majority of other countries, as well as to develop economic, trade and political relations with the outside world. They achieved a breakthrough in the Iranian policy and the JCPOA as such was a foundation of Rouhani’s foreign policy steered by Mohammad Javad Zarif.
A breakup with the nuclear deal will affect the internal situation in the country. It may trigger a new wave of unrest and protests. A pullout from the JCPOA will inescapably be fraught with a toughening of sanctions that will become international then and will be much harsher than in 2009. Consequently, an erroneous step of this kind may put the Iranian economy in default and entail discontent of the grassroots and mass disorders.
Abandoning of the JCPOA will play into the hands of Iran’s regional opponents – Saudi Arabia, its allies in the Persian Gulf area and Israel. Tehran’s pullout from the nuclear deal will mean victory for them and will provide a justification of and testimony to the claims by their leaders that Iran is posing threat to the region and “is developing nuclear weapons”. A situation where these countries may use the UN Security Council’s rostrum – at the tips from the U.S. – to urge others to consider a military option against Iran is also possible.
Iran realizes the risks of any such scenarios only too well and it will not do anything until the rhetoric of the dialogue with the U.S. changes. This position has been aired by Iranian politicians and President Rouhani. The altering of the rhetoric may mean that Iran is waiting when a Democratic candidate moves to the Oval Office in the White House, hoping that normal and well-balanced dialogue will be possible with him or her. That is why Tehran will, in most probability, refrain from the steps to break up with the deal until November 2020, contrary to what Iran’s spiritual leader said once: “[…] if the threat […] to tear up the deal becomes operational then the Islamic Republic will set fire to the deal.”
The Iranians will be waiting and hoping that Trump will not win the next presidential election. They will obviously find it much easier to conduct dialogue with a crew like the one that Barack Obama had. It was during Obama’s term of office that the conflicting sides made concessions to each other and reached agreement on the Iranian nuclear program.
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