“USA, Iran and the Nuclear Deal: What Role for the Other Parties?” Webinar Summary
“USA, Iran and the Nuclear Deal: What Role for the Other Parties?” Webinar Summary
On 6 April 2021 the GCSP, jointly with METO (Middle East Treaty Organization), hosted a webinar on the topic “USA, Iran and the Nuclear Deal: What Role for the Other Parties?”.
- Ms Tarja Cronberg, Distinguished Associate Fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and former Member of the European Parliament
- Mr Li Chijiang, Secretary General of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association (CACDA)
- Mr Anton Khlopkov, Director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS) in Russia,
- Dr Dina Esfandiary, Senior Adviser to the International Crisis Group
In a context characterised by renewal of dialogue among all the original parties to the Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) but also persisting resistance to this process in the United States, in Iran, and in other countries of the region (Israel, Saudi Arabia), the following points were made by the speakers and in the discussion:
- The Europeans, who started the whole process that led to the JCPOA, intended to prevent any military action, promote European unity, and make the EU a world actor in a multilateral framework. The first two goals were reached, but the third one has been challenged, especially when Trump imposed its unilateralism and hurt European economic interests with secondary sanctions. Iran lost trust in European capability to handle large-scale confrontations. And now Iran is leaning toward towards Russia and China although the EU can help solve the issue of sequencing in sanctions removal and Iran’s return to full compliance. In any case, this can be done only if the issues external to the JCPOA are discussed later and separately. The EU always supported the idea of a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East. But more engagement and proposals are needed from countries of the region, particularly the Gulf Countries. The EU will also continue to do everything possible to avoid military conflict.
- China is a strong supporter of the JCPOA, an important multilateral achievement to promote peace and stability in the Middle East, preserve the international non-proliferation regime, and enhance mutual trust and cooperation among relevant countries. The unilateral US withdrawal created a bad precedent for compliance with international agreements, but China is still coordinating with the EU countries, Russia, Europe to maintain the JCPOA in order to prevent the escalation of the crisis. At present, the Iranian nuclear issue is faced with both opportunities and challenges. China welcomed the new US administration’s willingness to return to the JCPOA. Current talks in Vienna can succeed if all parties pursue the negotiation with mutual respect and equality and the will to uphold multilateralism and the authority of the UN Security Council. The United States should reflect on the damage to regional peace and international stability and economic losses caused by its withdrawal. Unilateral sanctions on Iran and secondary sanctions should be lifted as soon as possible. China recently proposed a five-point initiative for achieving security and stability in the Middle East. It includes the idea of a roadmap and time frame for the United States and Iran to resume compliance with the JCPOA, and a multilateral dialogue conference for regional security in the Persian Gulf region to explore the establishment of a Middle East trust mechanism, starting with ensuring the safety of oil facilities and shipping lanes, and building step by step a framework for collective, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security in the Middle East.
- Russia considers that the keys to the restoration of the JCPOA are in Washington and Tehran and require political will, which seems now to exist. In addition, in both capitals there are highly professional officials with experience of negotiating the JCPOA and its implementation. It is indeed important to return to the original deal. In the United States, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) legislation will require a review of any new deal by the Congress unless all parties agree to return to the original one. Other parties can assist a restoration of the JCPOA by structuring dialogue between all parties. Russia, like the EU and China, is willing to mediate the dialogue between the United States and Iran. It can also provide assistance to bring the Iranian nuclear programme into compliance with the JCPOA (LEU stockpile, types of centrifuges, amount of heavy water, etc.). The third area is about effective joint economic activities with Iran, because Iran should feel the results of the removal of obstacles to economic cooperation. This also applies to other countries with close economic ties with Iran, especially in oil, like South Korea, Japan, or India. Russia was always motivated by the protection and strengthening of the non-proliferation regime, the prevention of a military crisis close to Russia's borders, and the promotion of a favourable climate for economic cooperation with Iran, badly affected by sanctions. The same motivations still exist today, which can explain the close ties between Russia and Iran. Russia hopes other countries, including China and the EU, will be able to provide necessary assistance to negotiate the steps required for restoration of the JCPOA. And time is pressing, with the approaching Iran presidential elections.
- From the Iranian perspective, there was frustration with the Trump administration but now there's frustration with the Biden Administration for the slow pace of return to the JCPOA. Also, after many years of negotiations, the compromises made, the implementation of the deal, there is serious nuclear fatigue in Iran while Iranians should address their more pressing domestic concerns. For Iran, there is no scope for dialogue on anything else (regional security, missiles) until there is first a return to the original JCPOA. But there is understanding in Tehran that this JCPOA is no longer enough for part of the international community and there is willingness to discuss problematic aspects of the nuclear deal once there has been a return to the JCPOA. There also seems to be readiness to talk about certain very limited aspects of Iran's missile programme and have a dialogue on regional security, which should not be held in the P5+1 process, but rather facilitated by regional actors, perhaps with the blessing of other international actors. Much like the US political system, the Iranian political system somewhat mirrors that in terms of the hardliners and the reformists/moderates and their willingness to talk about the JCPOA and other issues with other international actors. Even within the hardliners there are different perspectives on how to conduct these negotiations and whether to return into compliance with the deal. This may be changing because many people have seen the benefits not economically, not in terms of openness, but the political benefits of being a state in compliance with a deal that they compromised on while the other side walked away from the deal. However, there is no consensus now in Tehran. If the process fails, the hardliners can blame it on Rouhani and, after the election, can forget engagement with the West. But the hardliners can also explore engagement with the western world, even when they have their candidate in place from August onwards, because of the political wins that Iranians received as a result of engagement. Much like the conservatives in the US, the moderates will never overturn a deal negotiated by a hardliner while the hardliners will not hesitate to ruin a deal made by the moderates. If the discussions in Vienna fail, the Supreme Leader will most likely decide to hold off until after the elections. In any case, any discussion of the WMD-free Zone is very low on Iran’s list of priorities because of everything that's happened with the JCPOA. At the same time there would be discomfort with Israel being part of the process and interest in making Israel part of the process because of its nuclear arsenal, which are just too many conflicting issues. On the regional front, Iran may focus not on the Zone but rather on “we need dialogue on de-escalation in regional security to begin with and then we can address everything that comes as a result of that”.