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Iran: Sans Revival of JCPOA Towards Nuclear Weapons Capability

Importance of JCPOA

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of 2015 or commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal encompasses several components which designed to meet varied strategic goals, international, economic, regional and national.

The JCPOA restricted enrichment and uranium stockpile of Iran in exchange for removal of sanctions.

The Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015 has eight parties and has the approval of the United Nations Security Council thus making the same an international agreement endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted on July 20, 2015.

The parties to the 2015 JCPOA are generally known as E 3 + 3 or P5+1 - permanent members of the Security Council- The United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, China-and Germany and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The European Union is the coordinator cum facilitator of the JCPOA.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is nominated for verification of compliance by Iran.

U.S. Walks out of JCPOA

Former President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the JCPOA unilaterally despite a cry by the allies in Europe and internationally. He cited flaws in terms of the deal, which increased US and regional implying Israel insecurity.

On May 8, 2018, then -U.S. President Donald Trump cited the deal's sunset provisions and its failure to account for Iran's ballistic missile program to walk out of the agreement.

Why New JCPOA required

Within a year of the United States walking out of the JCPOA 2015 and placing banking and oil sanctions, Iran accused the US of faltering on commitments and accused the European partners of submitting to US pressures. Even though, the EU drew mechanisms to engage with Iran in a bid to keep up with the agreement.

The European countries launched a barter system known as INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges), to facilitate transactions outside the US banking system.

However, citing the breach of the deal, Iran started exceeding the limits placed on nuclear stockpiles and began enriching higher concentrations of uranium.

On Dec. 2, 2020, Iran’s Guardian Council passed new legislation seeking, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to “Immediately boost enrichment levels to 20 percent uranium-235, and store at least 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched fuel annually,” as per

The objective was to step up enrichment which in turn led to concerns of proliferation.

As United States President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, Washington decided to return to the JCPOA with fresh negotiations commencing in Vienna to contain Iranian proliferation.

When Negotiations started

The negotiations for return to JCPOA 2015 commenced in April 2021 and for six rounds of talks have been held in the Austrian capital Vienna. The negotiations hit a pause for the Iranian presidential Elections in June until the transition from the reformist Hassan Rouhani to the ultra conservative Ebrahim Raisi. Though it resurged with the eighth round starting in December and almost reaching to conclude it in March 2022.

Present State of Negotiations

The Russian invasion of Ukraine which stopped Europe in its tracks intruded on the pace of the negotiations. Whether the parties could reach any agreement if the invasion hadn’t taken place is now a hypothetical question, but these did complicate the talks.

The negotiations were in a stalemate, however, exchange of proposals between the US and Iran through a European interlocuter – Enrico Mora began with an indirect, EU-mediated but, face-to-face discussion in Qatar at the end of June that could be counted as some progress.

Meanwhile, when the negotiations resumed in Vienna at the beginning of August, the earlier progress the talks seemed to make was found to be lost as the differences they thought were covered surfaced again.

The developments related to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s survey and reports, followed by its claims and accusations pointing fingers at the nuclear establishments of Iran and Iran raising its concerns of attacks on its nuclear facilities allegedly by Israel characterised the negotiations more of push and pull game.

What are the Points of Contention

Firstly, Iran has consistently raised objections to having an IAEA investigation into the past activities concerning nuclear material at three undeclared Iranian sites. “This probe is a bottomless pit. If we don’t put an end to it at some point, 50 years from now they will still hold our feet to the fire over what happened before 2003,” said a senior Iranian official. Thus, Iran want to end the probe while the US and E3 (UK, France and Germany) keep opposing.

Secondly, Iran put up the demand of delisting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) under the US Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) list, the decision which was taken under the Trump administration. This point however is no longer said to be contentious.

Biden administration has proposed to delist the IRGC on certain conditions, including a commitment by Iran not to pursue revenge for the US killing of a senior Quds Force Commander, General Qassem Soleimani under the Trump administration, by targeting the current or former US officials. However, Iran rejected the offer.

Finally, the most difficult point of contention concerns Iran regarding the negotiations for the deal is the commitment of successive US administrations to the deal. A clause is proposed as a compensation for Iran in case the United States walks out of the agreement in the future.

What are the Prospects

The deal restoring to its original compliance and terms may remain beyond reach but, a compromise with little flexibility to see the negotiations through its conclusion still remains in all parties’ interests. Recent developments, including the US and EU joint statement during the IAEA Board of Governors meet and the US imposing the sanctions on additional Iranian individuals and entities, do not paint a desirable prospect for the deal.

Moreover, the US administration indicated the ‘unlikely’(ness) of the deal striving for its conclusion when the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated, “What we’ve seen over the last week or so in Iran’s response to the proposal put forward by the European Union is clearly a step backwards and makes prospects for an agreement in the near-term, I would say, unlikely,” to reporters in Mexico City.

The two sides have been trading responses via European Union to a proposal put forward by the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borell. But, that too appears to have attained a stalemate.

An imminent breakthrough in talks seems unlikely given the Iranian side projecting lesser signs of flexibility and Democrats on the other hand staying adamant not to engage in an Iran debate as the US Congress prepares for the midterm elections. However, what seems likely is the escalation of tensions or unprecedented development that could even scratch the last of the negotiations proving it to be the very chance to salvage the JCPOA.

[Compilation Assistance of Report by Harshita Panwar]


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