A possible return of Washington to a nuclear deal with Iran after the arrival of President Joe Biden in the White House could lead to unexpected consequences. It is possible that instead of the resumption of constructive interaction between the signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – that is, Iran, Russia and China on the one hand, as well as the “European troika” and the United States on the other, there will be a split around the Iranian agreements with the IAEA. This conclusion can be made following the meeting of representatives of the diplomatic departments of the JCPOA member countries, held on Wednesday.
Iran does not intend to abandon the implementation of the draft law “Strategic actions to lift sanctions.” This was stated by the Deputy Foreign Minister of the country Abbas Arakchi during a meeting of the joint commission on the implementation of the JCPOA, consisting of representatives of the diplomatic departments of Russia, China, France, Germany, Great Britain and Iran, which was held on Wednesday in the format of a video conference. The event preceded the informal meeting of the foreign ministers of the JCPOA countries, scheduled for December 21, which will also be held online. According to Mr. Arakchi, “the European side only calls on Iran to refrain from illegal and aggressive actions in response to US sanctions, sabotage in Natanz and the murder of a nuclear scientist.”
«Iran cannot bear the burden of both imposing sanctions and illegal actions of others (JCPOA participants – “B”). The rest must also bear the costs to keep the agreement, ”he said.
These words were a response to the call of the “European troika” to Iran to return to the fulfillment of technical obligations under the nuclear deal. Tehran, for its part, insists on lifting US sanctions from it, which will allow it to carry out normal banking activities and export oil. At the same time, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday: “We are not saying that we are not seeking to lift the sanctions, so there is no need to hesitate even an hour if there is an opportunity to lift them.” At the same time, he urged to think more about mitigating the effect of the sanctions than about lifting them.
Recall that the JCPOA was signed by Iran with five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in 2015. The agreement implied limiting Iran’s nuclear program, as well as temporary restrictions on the sale and purchase of weapons in exchange for lifting all international sanctions from this country. In 2018, US President Donald Trump decided to leave the JCPOA and return US sanctions on Iran. This has led to problems in cooperation with Iran for most countries, primarily EU members. Not waiting for economic dividends from the JCPOA, Tehran began to gradually reduce its obligations under the nuclear deal, but did not dare to withdraw from the agreement.
Following the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of the Defense Ministry’s Research and Innovation Center in late November, the Iranian parliament passed the Strategic Actions to Lifting Sanctions bill, which, if implemented, effectively nullifies all agreements under the nuclear deal. We are talking about Tehran’s refusal of an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), increasing the uranium enrichment level to 20%, using hundreds of centrifuges in Natanz and Fordow centrifuges, opening a uranium metal production plant in Isfahan and restoring a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor in Arak. The government was given two months to implement these decisions. The parliamentary activity was negatively received by the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who, as one of the JCPOA lobbyists, hoped to wait for Joe Biden to take office in Washington and resume dialogue with the United States. President Rouhani cannot outright reject the parliamentary decision, approved by the Guardian Council of the Constitution, but he still has not signed the bill. This means that the document has not yet entered into force.
However, two weeks ago, Reuters reported with reference to the IAEA report on Iran’s plans to install three cascades of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at the plant in Natanz. According to the Iranian side, the information came to the media from a closed report based on a confidential letter from Tehran. Even Moscow has expressed its concern over Iranian plans. “This step does not add positive to the already complicated and tense atmosphere around the Iranian nuclear program,” said then Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
On Monday, during the annual big press conference, President Rouhani reiterated that Iran can return to fulfilling all of its obligations under the JCPOA if two scenarios are implemented.
The first is the return of the United States to the situation that existed before its withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018. The second is without the United States. “As soon as, no matter in what format – 4 + 1 or 5 + 1, they begin to fully fulfill their obligations, the Iranian government will immediately return to full implementation of the provisions of the nuclear deal,” he said. Hassan Rouhani also stressed that Tehran does not accept in advance plans to adjust the JCPOA, including additional items that may affect Iran’s missile program. The closest allies of the United States in the region – Israel and the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf – insist on revising the JCPOA. Perhaps this option would suit the “European troika”, which, despite its desire to preserve the JCPOA, has always condemned Tehran’s missile activities.
The Russian Federation, like Iran, is categorically against any adjustment of the nuclear deal, which has been repeatedly stated by Russian diplomats in recent days. While the Trump administration advocated a complete break in relations with Iran, Moscow was able to find a consensus with its European colleagues to preserve the JCPOA. But a change in US position could bring Washington and Brussels closer together again. In the meantime, the JCPOA participants have been cautious in their statements. “The meeting of the joint commission on the JCPOA is over. The participants reaffirmed their firm commitment to the nuclear deal, as well as their readiness to make serious diplomatic efforts to ensure its full implementation, ”Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, wrote on his Twitter page on Wednesday.
In any case, few hope that the United States and Iran will be able to quickly find common ground.
“These will be very difficult negotiations. I have no illusions about this, ”Joe Biden said in an interview with CNN. According to him, Washington cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, but this cannot be achieved alone. “Therefore, in resolving issues concerning not only Iran, but also Russia, China and a number of other states, we need to be members of a larger group,” he added. And the candidate for the post of Assistant to the President of the United States for National Security, Jake Sullivan, noted in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the future American administration is considering returning to the JCPOA as a basis for further negotiations with Tehran on more global issues. That is, an attempt to expand the nuclear deal is most likely inevitable.
“Some say that we are encouraged by the rise of Joseph Biden to power. This is not true, but we are very happy that Trump is gone. This is a man who committed crimes, killed people and was a terrorist and even interferes with the import of vaccines, ”President Rouhani said Wednesday. However, the Iranians still have to live until Donald Trump leaves. On Wednesday, the United States again expanded the list of anti-Iranian sanctions.