May 12 is the last day of Donald Trump’s “ultimatum” to revise the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA), signed in July 2015 by Iran, on the one side, and the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, on the other. In mid Jan 2018, Trump urged his European colleagues to revise the deal, but the latter see no need for revision.
Even more, it seems that during their last visits to the United States, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel convinced the U.S. President and now Trump suggests just supplementing the plan. After his visit to Washington, Macron said on Twitter that France was not going to withdraw from the deal and that he and Trump had agreed to consider a new plan.
“The United States is not seeking to reopen or renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal but hopes to stay in it to fix its flaws with a supplementary agreement,” U.S. non-proliferation envoy Christopher Ford said earlier.
He did not specify what an agreement it would be. But it is not a secret that Trump seeks to extend the deal’s long-term restrictions on some of Iran’s nuclear activities, to place the country’s missile program within the framework of international obligations and to make the Iranians give up on their “aggressive policy” in the Middle East.
The Iranians will certainly dismiss these supplementary requirements and may face renewed or new sanctions. As regards Trump, his goal is obviously to cause more economic problems and to provoke internal political tensions in Iran.
The Iranian economy is having hard times. Iran’s national currency is as cheap as never before - 42,000 IRR per 1 USD – with some of its big energy and transportation projects being on the verge of disruption.
Experts say that the Iranian economy has not improved since the signing of the deal. And this proves that the U.S. sanctions were just partially responsible for Iran’s economic problems. The other factors are all-time high corruption, poor banking and state-controlled economy.
But despite these problems, Iran continues funding pro-Iranian forces in the Middle East. Some sources say that the military presence in Syria costs Tehran $7bn a year or over 1.5% of its GDP. In 2017, the Iranians provided Hezbollah, the key Shia force outside Iran, with $830mn or four times as much as a year before.
In fact, the only factors that are keeping the Iranian economy afloat are high oil prices and oil imports to Europe. The biggest challenge to the Iranian economy, according to experts, is the interference of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The reelection of Hassan Rouhani as president caused a conflict between moderate reformers (Rouhani) and conservatives (IRGC).
In early July 2017, the conflict reached a critical point, when Rouhani said: “If the policies of Article 44 of the constitution were implemented exactly, we would have a great revolution and progress. Yet, what did we do? A part of the economy was controlled by an unarmed government and we delegated it to an armed government (meaning IRGC - EADaily). This is not economy or privatization.”
The IRGC reacted by critical articles about Rouhani and his government. The critics even supposed that there were secret scenarios for destroying the Iranian army and that the IRGC’s opponents might have ties with external enemies.
The contract with Total of France added fuel to the conflict. The conservatives said that it would throw Iran back to the economy preceding the revolution of 1979 (when the greater part of Iran’s resources were controlled by foreign companies).
On July 27, Rouhani settled the dispute during a meeting with IRGC top commanders.
When last autumn, the Americans considered listing the IRGC as a “terrorist organization,” Rouhani said that the IRGC was the “beloved” of the peoples of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Iraqi Kurds. “If the United States wants to commit the next mistake and take action against the Revolutionary Guards, this is a mistake on top of another mistake; the Revolutionary Guard is not just a military unit, but it has a place in the hearts of the Iranian people and has defended our national interests in times of threats to the country," the Iranian president said.
His response to the Americans’ intrigues was the decision to provide the IRGC with more money for its foreign operations (Syria, Iraq and some other countries) and for Iran’s missile program. By the end of 2017, the IRGC had received $300mn more for the programs.
This must have angered Trump. On May 12, he is going to announce the start of the process to withdraw from the JCPA. The decision to list the IRGC as a “terrorist organization” has not yet been passed (1) but it may well be in view of the growing anti-Iranian moods in the White House.
Iran’s refusal to accept supplementary requirements is reasonable as it has already undertaken not to develop nuclear arms under its nuclear program.
So, for Trump, his ultimatums are just a pretext to get rid of Barack Obama’s “legacy” in the Middle East.
Earlier, western mass media reported that Trump had almost decided to leave the JCPA, but it is not clear how he will do this and what he will do next.
According to Reuters, Trump may decide not to fully restore the sanctions against Iran, but it is not clear what exactly he will do.
Another source from the White House reported that even though Trump was moving towards withdrawal, he had not passed the final decision.
In turn, Iran is not going to stop its missile program or to withdraw from Syria. Even more, it warns that if supplementary requirements are imposed, it will enlarge its nuclear program to the extent it needs under current conditions.
Iran has already considered countermeasures to the United States’ decision to leave the JCPA. On May 4, Chief of the Iranian President’s Staff Mahmoud Vaezi said that the Iranian government might take them this year.
Iran may consider resuming its activities to enrich uranium and to develop nuclear technologies if the United States withdraw from the deal. In his May 2 interview with CNN, Iranian Ambassador to the UK Hamid Baeidinejad said that "the consequence would be that Iran would in fact be ready to go back to the previous situation. "It could be enriching uranium, it could be redefining our cooperation with the agency [IAEA], and some other activities that are under consideration," Baeidinejad said.
Earlier Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Trump that if the United States left the deal, it would face “severe consequences.” “Tehran will react firmly should Trump follow through on his threats to change or abrogate the 2015 agreement,” the Iranian president said while addressing his people on TV on Apr 24.
By this Saturday, Trump will have to decide. The most probable decision will be to start the procedure to leave the deal. The first step would be refusal to extend the waiver of the U.S. sanctions against Iran.
(1) Expects say that it is the first time that the United States has listed a whole state as a terrorist organization and warn that this is dangerous for the Americans’ diplomacy. It means that they will have to put an embargo on all companies, organizations and individuals having any contacts with the IRGC. But the number of such entities is so huge that the Americans will hardly be able to do it – especially as the EU and China have made it clear that they are going to stay within the JCPA and to continue their economic contacts with Iran. If the Americans put the IRGC on their terror list, they will have to persecute all American and foreign citizens supporting that organization as well as the Iranian government and parliament. (Yury Scheglovin, About Negative Consequences of the United States’ Decision to List the IRGC as a Terrorist Organization // Middle East Institute, Oct 17, 2017).
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau