Iranian President Rohani, a pragmatist, was elected in 2013 which led to a diplomatic thaw between the Islamic Republic and the West. Finally, after 20 months of “strenuous” negotiations between Iran, the P5+1 and Iran the JCPOA on the nuclear program of Iran was reached in July 2015 to ensure that Islamic Republic’s future nuclear program would be exclusively peaceful.
It was a landmark comprehensive nuclear agreement after the longest continuous negotiations with the presence of all foreign ministers of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The agreement was very complex. One of the signatories, Robert J. Einhorn, a former U.S. Department of State official now at the Brookings Institution, said of the agreement: “Analysts will be pleasantly surprised. The more things are agreed to, the less opportunity there is for implementation difficulties later on.” The agreement had been founded upon , and also reinforced, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA safeguards system.
According to several commentators, JCPOA was the first of its kind in the annals of non-proliferation and is in many aspects unique. This was the first time that the United Nations Security Council had recognized the nuclear enrichment program of a developing country –Iran–and backed an agreement (JCPOA) signed by several countries within the framework of a resolution (United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231).For the first time in the history of the United Nations, a country –Iran– was able to abolish 6 UN resolutions against it –1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835, 1929– without even one day of implementing them. Sanctions against Iran was also lifted for the first time. The 159-page JCPOA document and its 5 appendixes, was the most spacious text of a multinational treaty since World War II. Throughout history of international law, this was the first and only time that a country subject to Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter –Iran– has managed to end its case and stop being subject to this chapter through diplomacy, all other cases have ended to either regime change, war or full implementation of the Security Council’s decisions by the country. Iran had agreed to strict limits on its nuclear program and extensive monitoring in return for the lifting of sanctions. In addition, it was agreed that Iran would have cooperate with an inquiry looking into evidence of past work on nuclear warhead design.
A brief summary of the main points:
1.Iran will not produce weapons-grade plutonium and limit its stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67% to 300 kilograms for the next 15 years.
2.Tehran also agreed to modernize its nuclear facilities and use them for exclusively peaceful purposes.
3.Sanctions will be gradually removed from Iran.
4.The arms embargo imposed by UN Security Council will be kept in place for five years, ban for supplying ballistic missile technologies to Iran – for eight years.
5.Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will monitor nuclear facilities in Iran for the next 25 years.
6.If any points of the agreement are violated by Iran, sanctions against the country will be renewed.
The Main Points of the JCPOA:
1.Uranium enrichment capacity
Iran’s current capacity of 19,000 gas centrifuges would be reduced by more than two-thirds to 6,104, out of which just over 5,000 would actually be enriching uranium. All of them would be first-generation centrifuges based on technology going back to the 1950s. Furthermore, for the first 15 years of the deal Iran would not enrich beyond the level of 3.67% purity, low-enriched uranium (LEU) of the kind used in nuclear power stations.
2.The enriched uranium stockpile
Iran’s stockpile of LEU would be reduced from its current level of about 7,500kgto 300kg, a reduction of 96%. The reduction would be achieved either by shipping the uranium abroad or by diluting it.
3.Research, development and future enrichment capacity
There would be limits on the R&D work Iran could do on advanced centrifuges, so that it could not suddenly upgrade its enrichment capacity after the first 10 years of the agreement and bring its breakout time down from one year to a few weeks almost overnight. Iran would be able to test experimental new centrifuges on a small scale according to a gradual plan.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have full access to all Iran’s declared nuclear sites as at present, but with much more advanced technology than they are using now. Inspectors would be able to visit non-declared sites where they think nuclear work might be going on. A commission made up of a range of IAEA members would be set up to judge whether the inspectors’ access requests are justified, and would take its decision by majority vote.
5.Investigation into past activity
Iran has agreed a “road map” with the IAEA officials by which it would provide access to facilities and people suspected of involvement in past experimental work on warhead design, managed by a centralized and covert unit, mostly before 2004. The IAEA would have to certify Iranian cooperation with the inquiry before Iran benefits from sanctions relief.
As Iran takes the agreed steps listed above to reduce the capacity and proliferation risk of its nuclear infrastructure, the US and EU would provide guarantees that financial and economic sanctions will be suspended or cancelled. The EU would stop its oil embargo and end its banking sanctions, and Iran would be allowed to participate in the Swift electronic banking system that is the lifeblood of international finance. Barack Obama would issue presidential waivers suspending the operation of US trade and financial sanctions.
7.A new UN security council resolution and the arms embargo
The JCPOA will be incorporated into a new security council resolution intended to replace and supersede six earlier sanctions resolutions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program. The resolution will be passed before the end of the month but the agreement will not take effect for 90 days, allowing for the domestic political review to be completed. An arms embargo on Iran would remain in place for five years, and a ban on the transfer of missile technology would stay for eight years.
On July 20,2015 the corresponding resolution on Iran’s nuclear program agreement was adopted by UN Security Council.
October 18, 2015 marks “Adoption Day” under the JCPOA – the day on which the JCPOA becomes effective and participants begin to make the necessary preparations for implementation of their JCPOA commitments. In connection with Adoption Day, on October 18, 2015, the United States President issued a memorandum directing his administration to take all appropriate preparatory measures to ensure the prompt and effective implementation of the U.S. commitments set forth in the JCPOA upon Iran’s fulfillment of the requisite conditions. In particular, the US President directed the agencies to take steps to give effect to the U.S. commitments with respect to sanctions described in the JCPOA. In addition, on October 18, 2015, the Secretary of State issued contingent waivers of certain statutory sanctions provisions. These waivers were not currently in effect and will only take effect on Implementation Day.. Thus, the US was signaling Iran that the country was ready to do more than whatw as required to implement the JCPOA.
JCPOA ‘s Annex V – Implementation Plan1 which describes the sequence of the actions specified in the agreement clearly states in section A. Finalization Day (2-4) that Iran and the IAEA will start “developing necessary arrangements to implement all transparency measures provided for in this JCPOA so that such arrangements are completed, in place, and ready for implementation”. Meanwhile, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution endorsing this JCPOA, the provisions imposed in UN Security Council resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015) will be “terminated subject to re-imposition in the event of significant nonperformance by Iran of JCPOA commitments, and specific restrictions, including restrictions regarding the transfer of proliferation sensitive goods will apply”.
Thus, the onus of compliance was primarily on Iran and any failure would result in the re-imposition of the sanctions regoime under the UN. Thus, all concessions given to Iran were conditional on very strict compliance of the JCPOA.
The Role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
The IAEA, United Nations nuclear watchdog, had a crucial role in the implementation of the JCPOA. Theew was also separate “roadmap” agreement between Iran and the IAEA, undr which the agency would have to investigate the military dimensions of Iran’s program, issue a report, and then close Iran’s decade-old file within before the deal could come into effect. For sanctions on Iran to be lifted, the IAEA must first verify that e Iran had honored all its commitments under the July deal, including dismantling large numbers of its centrifuges for uranium enrichment and filling parts of its Arak nuclear site with cement. The closure of the IAEA’s nuclear weaponization probe was one of the prerequisites for the implementation of the JCPA.
The IAEA conducted a 12-year long survey on Iran’s nuclear program. Finally, on December 15, 2015 the IAEA closed the book on the possible military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, finding that they were limited to feasibility and scientific studies and did not proceed beyond 2009, bringing an international nuclear accord with Iran a step closer to implementation. The resolution moved Iran another step closer to large-scale sanctions relief following its deal with world powers this summer. Thus, Iran had cleared one of the nuclear deal’s most important hurdles. Iran had yet to complete other provisions for implementing the deal, including removing the core of its plutonium reactor, scrapping much of its nuclear-fuel stockpile and removing thousands of centrifuges from its nuclear facilities. Iranian and U.S. officials have said that could be accomplished as early as January—one month ahead of parliamentary elections in Iran.
On December 15, 2015, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano confirmed that Iran was moving quickly to meet its commitments. Iran hoped to put the restrictions in place within two to three weeks. The restrictions Iran must put in place include drastically reducing the number of centrifuges installed at its underground enrichment sites, removing the core vessel of a reactor at Arak and shrinking its stockpile of enriched uranium..
The IAEA must verify that Iran has put the required nuclear restrictions in place for sanctions to be lifted. Iran had been racing to keep its side of the JCPOA deal. The next step was for Iran to complete the necessary preparatory steps to start implementing the JCPOA. On receipt of an IAEA report verifying that Iran had taken all actions specified in the JCPOA, the agency would then terminate the relevant resolutions it had previously passed in connection with Iran’s nuclear program. This will allow Iran to participate in all IAEA technical cooperation activities, for instance. Meanwhile, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said on December 16, 2015 that Iran would carry out its remaining obligations and would now dismantle some nuclear centrifuges and ship out a major portion of its stockpile of enriched uranium
The Implementation Day is a major landmark in the JCPOA and will occur only once the IAEA verifies that Iran has implemented key nuclear-related measures specified in the agreement. Several preparatory steps have to be completed by Iran. This will be a major landmark, if and when it occurrs.
The Future of the JCPOA
The United States has taken a step toward lifting at least some sanctions against Iran, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Tehran is fulfilling its obligations in a “transparent” and “verifiable” way under an international agreement on its nuclear program. Kerry made the remarks on December 16, 2015. The Obama administration estimated it would not be until spring that Iran would be in compliance with the terms required for sanctions relief to begin. The sanctions, if and when, lifted would give Iran access to billions in frozen assets and oil revenue. Thus, the United States appeared poised to lift at least some sanctions against Iran — possibly as early as January 2016.
It took a great effort on the part of the US and Iran to reach this agreement. Iran made concessions in order to get rid of the sanctions regime which was crippling its economy. The people of Iran also wanted to end this confrontation with the West. The adoption of the resolution had become the breakthrough in relations between IAEA and Iran. Although, the IAEA’s report strongly suggesting Iran had engaged in activities aimed at developing a nuclear bomb up until 2003 and that there was no credible sign of weapons-related work beyond 2009. Despite the finding, the international response to the report had been “muted”, indicating a desire to go ahead with an agreement that “allayed fears of a wider Middle East war over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, rather than dwell on its past actions”.
Under the JCPOA Iran pledged never under any circumstances to seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and the UN Security Council is to consider ending sanctions imposed for its NPT violations once it receives IAEA’s report on verification. Once the deal was implemented, most U.S., U.N. and European Union economic and financial sanctions would be suspended, including Europe’s embargo on Iranian energy. However, an arms ban will remain in replace as well as sanctions on dozens of people and companies associated with Iran’s nuclear program. Iran will also have to seek permission to import so-called dual-use goods, which could be used in an illicit nuclear program. Other U.S. sanctions related to human-rights abuses and support for terror groups, including a “near-comprehensive embargo” on U.S. trade with Iran, will remain in place.
Much work lies ahead to reach this agreement and a further sustained effort will be required to implement it. It isn’t gong o be easy at all. With the lifting of sanctions, Iran was poised to add a half million barrels a day to the saturated world oil supply by mid-2016, once the sanctions relief goes into effect, said Sara Vakhshouri, a senior energy fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. Positive news on Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers “could have a psychological downward impact on the global oil prices,” Vakhshouri said. “This could happen even before Iran increases its export volumes.” Notwithstanding he criticisms, the JCPOA has the potential to provide stability, security and economic prosperity to Iran and thereby help stabilize a volatile region.
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around
Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.
Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.
But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.
The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.
The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.
It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.
The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.
It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.
Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK
Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.
Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.
The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.
If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.
The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.
The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.
The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”
The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.
Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”
Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.
The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.
A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.
The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.
In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.
Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.
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