Iran nu­clear deal on shaky ground

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion as pres­i­dent raises the prospect the United States will pull out of the nu­clear pact it signed last year with Iran, alien­at­ing Wash­ing­ton from its al­lies and po­ten­tially free­ing Iran to act on its am­bi­tions. Out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion touted the deal, a legacy for­eign pol­icy achieve­ment, as a way to sus­pend Tehran’s sus­pected drive to de­velop atomic weapons. In return Obama, a Demo­crat, agreed to a lift­ing of most sanc­tions. The deal, harshly op­posed by Repub­li­cans in Congress, was reached as a po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment rather than a treaty rat­i­fied by law­mak­ers, mak­ing it vul­ner­a­ble to a new US pres­i­dent, such as Trump, who might dis­agree with its terms. A Repub­li­can, Trump ran for the White House op­pos­ing the deal but con­tra­dic­tory state­ments made it un­clear how he would act. In an up­set over Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton, Trump won on Tues­day and will suc­ceed Obama on Jan 20.

A busi­ness­man-turned-politi­cian who has never held pub­lic of­fice, Trump called the nu­clear pact a “disas­ter” and “the worst deal ever ne­go­ti­ated” dur­ing his cam­paign and said it could lead to a “nu­clear holo­caust”. In a speech to the proIs­rael lobby group AIPAC in March, Trump de­clared that his “Num­ber-One pri­or­ity” would be to “dis­man­tle the dis­as­trous deal with Iran.” He said he would have ne­go­ti­ated a bet­ter deal, with longer re­stric­tions, but some­what para­dox­i­cally, he crit­i­cized re­main­ing US sanc­tions that pre­vent Amer­i­can com­pa­nies from deal­ing with Iran.

By con­trast, he has con­ceded it would be hard to de­stroy a deal en­shrined in a United Na­tions res­o­lu­tion. In Aug 2015, he said he would not “rip up” the nu­clear deal, but that he would “po­lice that con­tract so tough they don’t have a chance”. Iran de­nies ever hav­ing con­sid­ered de­vel­op­ing atomic weapons. But ex­perts said any US vi­o­la­tion of the deal would al­low Iran also to pull back from its com­mit­ments to curb nu­clear de­vel­op­ment. Those com­mit­ments in­clude re­duc­ing the num­ber of its cen­trifuges by two-thirds, cap­ping its level of ura­nium en­rich­ment well be­low the level needed for bomb-grade ma­te­rial, re­duc­ing its en­riched ura­nium stock­pile from around 10,000 kg to 300 kg for 15 years, and sub­mit­ting to in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tions to ver­ify its com­pli­ance.

‘Di­vi­sive Deal’

“Say good­bye to the Iran deal,” said Richard Nephew, a for­mer US ne­go­tia­tor with Iran now at Columbia Univer­sity. “There is very lit­tle like­li­hood that it stays, ei­ther be­cause of a de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion to tear it up by Trump, or steps that the US takes which prompt an Ira­nian walk back.” The spokesman of the Atomic En­ergy Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Iran, Behrouz Ka­mal­vandi, was quoted as say­ing by Tas­nim news agency: “Iran is pre­pared for any change,” adding that Iran would try to stand by the deal. The nu­clear deal was di­vi­sive in Iran, with hard­lin­ers op­posed to bet­ter re­la­tions with the West ar­gu­ing that prag­ma­tist Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani was giv­ing up too much of the coun­try’s nu­clear in­fra­struc­ture for too lit­tle re­lief. Rouhani said yes­ter­day the US elec­tion re­sults would have no ef­fect on Tehran’s poli­cies, state news agency IRNA quoted him as say­ing. Some of Wash­ing­ton’s closest Mid­dle East al­lies have been skep­ti­cal of the nu­clear deal. Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has been out­right hos­tile. Gulf lead­ers say the deal has em­bold­ened Iran’s pur­suit of re­gional hege­mony in part through sup­port for proxy groups fu­el­ing re­gional con­flicts. Ira­nian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whose power su­per­sedes that of Rouhani, reg­u­larly crit­i­cizes the United States and says it should not be trusted, but ul­ti­mately as­sented to the terms of the deal, known by its acro­nym JCPOA.

Khamenei Big Win­ner

“The big win­ner in the af­ter­math of a Trump vic­tory is Iran’s Supreme Leader,” said Suzanne Maloney, a for­eign pol­icy ex­pert at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “He will have the most car­toon­ish Amer­i­can en­emy, he will ex­ult in the (hope­fully brief) crash of the Amer­i­can econ­omy, and he will be able to walk away from Iran’s obli­ga­tions un­der the JCPOA while pin­ning the re­spon­si­bil­ity on Wash­ing­ton.”

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing any Trump ef­fort to rene­go­ti­ate the deal is that it is a mul­ti­lat­eral agree­ment in­volv­ing US al­lies in Europe as well as fel­low world pow­ers Rus­sia and China. Euro­pean and Asian firms have been re­turn­ing to Iran and mak­ing ma­jor in­vest­ments there, mean­ing the United States would likely be alone in pulling out of the deal, pos­si­bly iso­lat­ing it from its part­ners. Yes­ter­day, the head of gas, re­new­ables and power for French oil and gas com­pany To­tal TOTF.PA in Iran said Trump’s elec­tion would have no im­pact on in­vest­ments. Khamenei has al­ready promised to “set fire” to the nu­clear deal if the West vi­o­lates it. Iran has re­peat­edly com­plained it has not re­ceived ben­e­fits promised. Though Euro­pean com­pa­nies have been ea­ger to ex­plore busi­ness prospects in Iran, few deals have been en­acted in part be­cause Euro­pean banks have been re­luc­tant to fi­nance deals in­volv­ing Iran. “As to whether he can ne­go­ti­ate a ‘bet­ter’ deal, it takes two (or seven) sides to agree to be­gin that process, some­thing I rate as highly un­likely,” said Zachary Gold­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter on Law and Se­cu­rity at New York Univer­sity and a for­mer US Trea­sury of­fi­cial. “And if we walk away from the deal I think we will be in the worst of all worlds - Iran will feel freed from its com­mit­ments and we may be blamed for the deal fall­ing apart.” — Reuters

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