A breakdown of the deal and tension in the Persian Gulf has implications for India
The Trump Administration’s decision, on Friday, to continue waiving sanctions relating to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is good news for the world and India. However, and somewhat ominously, Trump said that this was the last waiver he would issue. Which means in four months, we will confront the possibility of the deal collapsing and its attendant consequences.
In addition, the US issued new sanctions against 14 Iranian officials and institutions relating to human rights, its ballistic missile programme and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). New sanctions have been issued against the head of Iran’s judiciary Sadegh Larijani and a cyber warfare unit accused of internet censorship and this could further roil relations between Iran and the US.
It is no secret that Trump hates the Iran deal and had threatened to talk away from it, but since taking over as President, he has waived sanctions for the third time. By law, the US President is required to certify to its Congress every 90 days as to whether Iran is complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Agreement that it signed with six world powers to limit its nuclear programme. In October 2017, Trump refused to certify the agreement and is since been issuing waivers on the sanctions that he is mandated to impose.
Trump now wants to work with the European powers who were behind the deal and push for a follow on agreement which would impose new conditions on Teheran. Trump’s ideas are contained in amendments to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). This would mandate that Iran allow timely and sufficient inspection of all its sites by international inspectors, that Iran does not come close to getting nuclear weapons.
However, while UK may want to go with the US on this, Germany, France, are not likely to follow and China and Russia most certainly not.
The Europeans have been categorical in opposing any efforts to re-write the deal. On Thursday, the Europeans made it clear that they support the JCPOA. In Brussels, Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief said that while there were concerns about Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and other activities in the Middle East, they could be dealt with as a separate issue. But this would require Chinese and Russian cooperation as well as that of the Iranians, something that looks unlikely.
That is why there has been a big debate within the US about the Presidential waiver. Some have argued that the recent political protests are an opportunity to further push Iran to the point where the people overthrow the mullah-led government. However, others say that pressure would actually do the opposite—generate support for the government. Whatever it is, the US is poorly equipped to handle the issue because so far the US has been looking at the issue through only a military perspective. But while the protests have convinced the President that the Iranian leadership must be punished, the Europeans believe that the deal should be preserved.
The Americans realise that they lack significant diplomatic heft to push the Europeans, but their real problem is that they want to re-write the deal which was achieved through very tough negotiations.The JCPOA was worked out through a UN Security Council resolution with monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency which must certify that Iran is complying with its side of the deal which includes limiting its enrichment of uranium, reducing its heavy water stockpiles, dismantling centrifuges, pouring cement over the core of the Arak reactor. So far the IAEA which has got unprecedented access to the programme, has certified that Iran is in compliance with its part of the deal.
From the outset there has been little trust between Iran and the US. So while Iran has continued ballistic missile testing, the US has continued its sanctions through using the issue of human rights and terrorism and many international companies have stayed away from Iran so as not to get entangled in US laws.
Trump’s policy has two pillars—the dismantling of a deal worked out by his predecessor Barack Obama which has been criticized by Israel as well. And containing Iranian activism in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. The American policy is strongly influenced by the military men in his administration, people like the National Security Adviser H R McMaster who commanded American forces in Iraq.
Supporters of the deal say that it had a single focus—prevent Iran from going nuclear. Other issues such as ballistic missiles, Iranian activities in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq were not part of the arrangement. Those who thought that the deal alone would transform Iranian behaviour towards the US and its allies were unduly optimistic.
A breakdown of the deal and tension in the Persian Gulf has implications for India which imports significant quantities of Iranian oil and is also committed to building the Chah Bahar project.
This commentary originally appeared in Greater Kashmir.