After the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal on 16 January 2016, President Obama had called it “the strongest non-proliferation agreement ever negotiated”. The nuclear deal that was signed by Iran and the P5+1 (China France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on July 14, 2015’s lifeline is now in the hands of Europe to salvage the continuance of the deal that was described as “one of the worst deals ever” by Donald Trump. The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the landmark nuclear deal in May 2017, was the start of a cascade of events that would continuously test the deal that was supposed to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Even though there was widespread consensus that the Iran nuclear deal was the best alternative that could curb Iran’s nuclear program, Mr. Donald Trump maintained that Iran was infringing the terms of the JCPOA by covertly continuing with the nuclear program. However, there was no evidence provided by the Trump administration that Iran was subverting the terms of the JCPOA. The United States allies in Europe are now faced with the challenge to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive without the involvement of the US but this is proving tedious.
It remains a paradox why the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal at a time when nuclear nonproliferation efforts have been heightened to stop North Korea’s nuclear program. In an international system that welcomes agreements that curb the production of nuclear stockpiles, the JCPOA remains a framework that should be kept alive if the global nuclear nonproliferation regime is ever going to make any inroads in the fight against proliferation. Thus, European states are rallying to keep the deal alive and in effect. Iran’s breach of the 2015 nuclear deal’s limit on its enriched uranium stockpile in early July 2019 and its threats to seek higher-grade nuclear fuel are a direct result of the misguided decision by the Trump administration to withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018. However, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia remain steadfast to preserve the deal sans participation from the United States. Even though Iran’s threats do not showcase good faith in light of the new efforts to resuscitate the nuclear deal, the proponents trying to save the deal remain steadfast amidst growing tensions that could threaten the diplomatic efforts to keep Iran under the terms of the JCPOA.
Iran’s breach of the JCPOA although widely condemned, blame has also been directed at the Trump administration actions that are still viewed as having motivated the breach. China and Russia have criticized and blamed the US sanctions policy as the root cause of the current tensions. It might be easy for the international community to blame Iran’s breach of the JCPOA on the Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions on Iran but if it wanted to stick to the terms of the nuclear deal it would not have breached the agreement. Trump’s maximum pressure on Iran through the use of sanctions was circumvented by the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom who developed a special purpose vehicle (SPV) also known as INSTEX to enable European businesses to maintain non-dollar trade with Iran. Therefore, arguing that Iran’s increase of its nuclear stockpile limits cannot solely be blamed on the Trump administration’s sanctions that were not having the desired effect considering the decision by the European signatories to circumvent them. Had the Iranian government wanted to show good faith with the nuclear deal and its signatories they would not have increased the uranium stockpile. Such a move by Iran puts into question Iran’s obligations to committing to nonproliferation.
The fate of the Iran nuclear deal had already been put into question in 2017 when the Trump administration withdrew from the momentous agreements. Living questions on how the deal would work without the participation of the United States. However, the deal itself following the withdrawal was still valid because it was never officially renounced by the other signatories and Iran. Therefore, the JCPOA is technically still in effect and Iran’s nuclear obligations are still under the current nuclear deal sans the participation of the United States. A European Union diplomat Federica Mogherini recently asserted that the Iran nuclear deal was ‘not in good health, but still alive’ because Iran enrichment of uranium above the 3.67 percent ceiling set by the 2015 nuclear deal was reversible. The 3.67 percent ceiling might be considered reversible and by some insignificant but the fact that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani breached the accord should raise questions of whether Iran can abide by the nuclear deal as it stands. The EU’s decision to avoid triggering the formal dispute mechanism against Iran’s breach might entrap the EU signatories in an appeasement quagmire that could see continuous breaches from Iran due to a lack of accountability. Although the need to make Iran stay within the framework of the JCPOA is important, holding Iran’s breach of that framework is equally important.
Following a policy of appeasement policy in foreign policy or diplomacy to avoid escalation has no tangible positive outcomes as history as illustrated. Appeasement, was the policy of making concessions to the dictatorial powers to avoid conflict, governed Anglo-French foreign policy during the 1930s and this did not end well for Europe because it eventually facilitated the start of World War Two. When negotiating with nuclear rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, it is imperative that negotiators are not swayed by the need to maintain an agreement or orchestrate one at the detriment of making sure that the rogue nuclear state does not use certain tactics that would defeat the ends of the negotiation process or a nuclear deal framework. The rogue nuclear state, in this case, Iran- realizes that the other parties would turn a blind eye to its actions, therefore, it would continue taking chances to go beyond the 3.67 ceilings set up by the 2015 nuclear deal. If its actions are mate without an equal response more room is created for Iran to continue breaching the deal. A cascade of events then starts whereby Iran breaches the deal, demands more concessions to stay true to the accord. In a bid to appease Iran to stay within the framework, European signatories risk the salvaging of the Iran nuclear deal becoming a case study example of entrapment in diplomatic negotiations a la the failed Agreed Framework of the Six-Party Talks. According to the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, “Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear weapon“. If the EU, Russia, and China continue abetting and ignoring Iran’s breach of its nuclear obligations that window to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb will shut down. As the remaining signatories prepare to meet in Vienna on 28 July 2019, they should realize that the fate of the global nuclear nonproliferation faces its greatest test yet and the survival of the nonproliferation regime does not depend on appeasing or turning a blind eye to President Hassan Rouhani efforts to defeat the protocols of the Iran nuclear deal. With tensions rising in the Gulf between Iranian and British Vessels, it is important for the negotiators not to let side issues distract from the main issue of trying to salvage the nuclear deal as it stands. Focusing on other issues could have a long-lasting effect on whether the deal can still survive or not in its current framework. This is not to say Britain and Iran should not discuss what has been happening in the Gulf (Strait of Hormuz) but such talks should happen on the sidelines of the Vienna negotiations. Iran should respect its commitment to the JCPOA and should not use underhanded tactics to dismantle its nonproliferation obligations. Even though the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran is has not taken steps to withdrew, therefore, it has the duty to follow the JCPOA while being bound by its terms and conditions.