Nuke deal has fewer friends in US and Iran

Euro­peans con­cerned on path Trump might take

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

Signed with pomp and fan­fare on July 14, 2015, the Ira­nian nu­clear agree­ment was her­alded as a tri­umph for Amer­i­can diplo­macy and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion on non­pro­lif­er­a­tion. Two years later, it has few friends in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion or in Tehran. When it was signed in Vi­enna, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and his sec­re­tary of state, John Kerry, claimed the pact - com­monly known as JCPOA, for Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion - as an un­de­ni­able suc­cess.

Their Ira­nian coun­ter­parts, Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani and For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif, were equally ebul­lient. The pact was also signed by China, Rus­sia, France, Bri­tain and Ger­many, lend­ing it ad­di­tional weight. In force since Jan 16, 2016, the JCPOA pro­vides for in­ter­na­tional mon­i­tor­ing of Tehran’s nu­clear pro­gram to en­sure its purely peace­ful, civil­ian use. In ex­change, Tehran was promised the grad­ual lift­ing of the in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions that have stran­gled the Ira­nian econ­omy for years.

But dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, bil­lion­aire Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump made the ac­cord a fa­vorite tar­get. In cam­paign speech af­ter cam­paign speech, he pro­nounced it “the worst deal ever,” and he vowed, if elected, to “rip it up”. As pres­i­dent, how­ever, Trump has not car­ried out his threat. In May, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion even de­cided to pur­sue the Obama pol­icy of eas­ing some sanc­tions at least while com­plet­ing a JCPOA re­view to de­cide - in prin­ci­ple by to­mor­row - whether to con­tinue lift­ing sanc­tions.

Obama legacy at stake

Af­ter vow­ing to drop out of the Paris cli­mate agree­ment and ques­tion­ing the Obama-era open­ing to Cuba, Trump would be deal­ing a ter­ri­ble blow to his pre­de­ces­sor’s legacy if he de­cided to aban­don the JCPOA. The for­mer real es­tate mogul has al­ready staked out con­trary po­si­tions to Obama in the Mid­dle East, tight­en­ing US ties to Saudi Ara­bia’s Sunni lead­ers while call­ing for the “iso­la­tion” of their Shi­ite ri­vals in Iran.

Wash­ing­ton ac­cuses Tehran of pos­ing a re­gional “threat” that “desta­bi­lizes” Syria, Iraq, Ye­men and Le­banon, ei­ther di­rectly or through its “ter­ror­ist” prox­ies. The Repub­li­can-con­trolled US Se­nate passed a bill in June to im­pose new sanc­tions on Tehran for its “sup­port for in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism.” Mean­time, the State De­part­ment, which since 1984 has de­clared Iran a “state spon­sor of ter­ror,” con­tin­ues to pun­ish Tehran for its bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram. The JCPOA none­the­less still has its fer­vent sup­port­ers in Wash­ing­ton.

‘An ex­is­ten­tial threat’

The ac­cord “re­moved an ex­is­ten­tial threat to the United States and our al­lies and part­ners,” said a state­ment from Diplo­macy Works, a pres­sure group founded by John Kerry and some for­mer ad­vis­ers. The lob­by­ing group added, “We en­cour­age the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­cer­tify Iran’s com­pli­ance - which they must do in or­der to reis­sue sanc­tions waivers due Mon­day.” As Jonathan Finer, a for­mer Kerry chief of staff, told AFP, “The nu­clear agree­ment is work­ing... It would be hard to un­der­stand why the ad­min­is­tra­tion would want to gen­er­ate a cri­sis” by tear­ing up the ac­cord.

In a let­ter to Trump, 38 re­tired US gen­er­als and ad­mi­rals stressed that the agree­ment had “suc­cess­fully blocked Iran’s paths to a nu­clear weapon”. “Iran dis­man­tled two-thirds of its cen­trifuges, gave up 98 per­cent of its stock­pile of sen­si­tive ura­nium and poured con­crete into the core of its heavy-wa­ter re­ac­tor,” the re­tired of­fi­cers wrote. In fact, the UN nu­clear mon­i­tor­ing au­thor­ity, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency (IAEA), praised Iran last month for re­spect­ing its com­mit­ments.

Euro­peans are deeply con­cerned, how­ever, about the path Trump might take. “What we are telling the Amer­i­cans is that the JCPOA is not per­fect but (is) much bet­ter than other op­tions,” a se­nior Euro­pean of­fi­cial told re­porters, speak­ing on grounds of anonymity. “Los­ing the JCPOA would be a mis­take.” The re­tired of­fi­cers warned against “ag­gres­sive pos­tur­ing that could pave the way to war” with Iran, some­thing that seemed a pos­si­bil­ity in the early 2000s.

Dashed hopes in Iran

In Tehran, too, the eu­pho­ria of July 2015 has given way to dis­il­lu­sion. Even if the de­sire for closer ties with the West re­mains strong among many Ira­ni­ans - as shown by the re-elec­tion in May of the mod­er­ate Rouhani - the much-an­tic­i­pated eco­nomic fruits of the nu­clear deal have been slow to ma­te­ri­al­ize. The con­tin­u­ing Amer­i­can sanc­tions frighten bankers and scare away in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions. While the French oil com­pany To­tal did re­cently sign a $4.8 bil­lion gas deal with Iran, for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment in the coun­try topped out last year at $3.4 bil­lion, a very long way from the $50 bil­lion that Rouhani once promised.

And that pro­vides grist for ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive fac­tions in Iran hos­tile to Amer­ica. As the holy month of Ra­madan was end­ing in June, and just be­fore a speech by supreme leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, the of­fi­cial poet of the Is­lamic Repub­lic pro­claimed: “Too much ex­cite­ment over the JCPOA was a mis­take, Re­ly­ing on Un­cle Sam was a mis­take, O friends, we made a pact with a thief.” — AFP

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