The nuclear deal signed by Iran and 5+1 in July 2015 is creaking at the seams due to some unfriendly gestures made by the United States of late, such as preventing the unfreezing of Iranian assets in U.S. banks and pushing active anti-Iranian rhetoric in the press. Besides, a few days ago, the U.S. Congress extended for ten years the act on sanctions against Iran. The Iranians reacted by expressing doubt that the nuclear deal could go on under such circumstances.
The extended act authorizes the U.S. president to single-handedly impose sanctions against businessmen having energy deals with Iran. With energy being the key source of income for the Iranians, this may have quite serious consequences for them. But this would not have been as bad for the deal as it is now, had it been ratified by the U.S. Congress. Consequently, Barack Obama’s successor is free to torpedo his initiative and he certainly will as one of his pre-election promises was to cancel the deal.
One more argument that Trump will do it is that his potential national security advisor and Secretary of Defense, Michael Flynn and James Mattis are known as strong advocates of tough policy on Iran. On Dec 2, Financial Times reported that Donald Trump’s team was considering a new package of anti-Iranian sanctions. This time, the motives are human rights violations in Iran and its missile program, with the latter being a big concern not only for the Americans but also for the Europeans.
In Mar 2016, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany slated Iran’s ballistic missile program and blamed the country for violating the resolution adopted by UN Security Council on July 20, 2015. The four are concerned that Iran’s missiles may have nuclear warheads. But the resolution they have mentioned does not ban missile tests. As a result, after a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister, the EU’s High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini took Iran’s side and said that Iran’s missile program had nothing to do with the nuclear deal.
Of course, there are certain factors that may keep Trump from cancelling the deal. One of them is the interests of some big U.S. businessmen, who consider Iran as a big fuel exporter, a huge sales market and a real treasury of highly-qualified and relatively cheap labor force. Considering Trump’s business background, we may hope that this will keep him from drastic measures. And the abovementioned act gives him room for maneuver: while lifting one sanction, he may impose another one. In this light, the Congressmen’s assurances that the act will be used only if Iran defaults on the nuclear deals are a bluff. And the Iranians know it.
No coincidence that their religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei stood up against the act and promised an appropriate response, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that he would do his best to prevent Trump from cancelling the deal. Here Iran’s positions are strong: the country is fulfilling all of its obligations under the deal and the IAEA’s inspections have confirmed this. But later Rouhani appeared with an even more specific counter-measure. He ordered the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to plan work on nuclear propulsion devices to be used in sea transport. He did not specify if the propulsion devices would be used only for ships or also for submarines. In any case, his initiative was so rational and well-thought-out that even the Americans, more specifically, the White House’s Spokesman Josh Earnest, were forced to recognize its compliance with the nuclear deal, while Spokesman of the U.S. Department of State John Kirby had no other option but to shift the responsibility on the IAEA and its inspectors.
In addition to this, Rouhani launched a project to develop fuel for nuclear vessels. This too, according to him, will be in full compliance with the nuclear deal. But the deal allows the Iranians to enrich to the level of 3.67%, while for producing fuel for nuclear ships, they will have to enrich uranium to 20%. And even though according to Russian experts, Rouhani meant just developing sources of power for nuclear ships rather than raising the level of uranium enrichment, the implications are clear.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has also counteracted by sending Mogherini a letter blaming the United States for preventing the implementation of the nuclear deal and urging 5+1 to meet and discuss the situation.
Iran all but wants the deal to be cancelled as it expects it to be good for its economy. So, the Iranians will do their best to find a compromise but if the Americans act like hawks, they may do something beyond the framework of the deal.
And this may cause a new conflict and new much more serious consequences for the Middle East. If resumed, this conflict will push Russia and the United States even farther away from each other and will make the world even more polarized. This is not what we expected from Trump, so, we cannot help supporting Iran in its efforts to save the nuclear deal.
Anton Yevstratov, specially for EADaily