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Iran: The hard fate of JCPOA

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US president Donald Trump published a new strategy on Iran. There were two major declarations. The first one related to inacceptability for the USA of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions (JCPOA) signed in 2015 on Iranian nuclear program. The second one related to sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that was included in the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.

First of all, we should remember that President Trump did not take the USA out of the JCPOA and did not denounce it. Once again, he simply did not confirm that Iran performed the “nuclear treaty” (which he did before), gave orders to learn if it is possible to amend its terms and conditions, as well as made a declaration that the American party may terminate it at any time. Though in this process he did not give details of the methods, mechanisms, ways and the instruments of this hypothetical denunciation. This is not a simple two party American-Iranian document, this is an international pact, approved and confirmed by the UN Security Council.

As a counterbalance to their boss, a group of National Security advisors to Trump declared that Iran conforms to the conditions agreed. This is a fully substantiated and logical declaration, has the main International watchdog of the IRI nuclear program, IAEA has confirmed 8 times that “Iran is strictly in line with its obligations under the JCPOA”. That is why Trump did not and does not have a formal way to terminate the agreement.
Another issue here is to change the requirements for Iran in this agreement. But this is also less probable because Iran categorically objects to it. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif declared that Tehran will never negotiate on the nuclear deal with the world powers already agreed.

In his turn, the head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi confirmed that the terms of conditions of JCPOA cannot be reviewed, and the best way is to follow them.

Russia, China and the European Union also noted that the JCPOA does not need any additions or amendments. Russian Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov gave a smart remark on that: “There is an American proverb that our colleagues open use in such situations, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.”

JCPOA has been working fine for two and a half years. Former Under Secretary of State and chief negotiator from Washington, together with the other G6 intermediaries and Iran Wendy Sherman warned: “The reluctance of the president to accept the truth about the agreement with Iran, that it works and that it is clearly in the US National Security interests, will have serious consequences.”

We will add that not only for the USA, which will face political, image and moral challenges. All the participants of the nuclear talks with IRI (except USA) support JCPOA and speak for keeping it, criticizing Trump’s position.

Besides that, the fact that Iran went out from under the sanctions, it also became and interesting Target for the international business. Almost all EU countries, as well as Japan, South Korea, China, Southeast Asia are interested in developing economic relations with Iran and are actively against a new anti-Iranian campaign and new anti-Iranian sanctions.
JCPOA is an important historical document that, probably for the first time since 1945 when the nuclear era started, put the nuclear Ambitions of a particular country under control and made it fit the framework of international laws and IAEA requirements. This is a good example of global diplomacy effectiveness that created a precedent of true trust of other parties in the name of nuclear weapons nonproliferation. JCPOA can become a model for diplomatic settlement of regional and world crises.

It should be noted, that Great Britain, Germany, France underline the aspect of nuclear non-proliferation in this treaty and say that it really meets its target. They spoke in support of JCPOA and called to the USA not to take steps that could undermine it and thus undermine the non-proliferation regime for nuclear weapons.

Mass media say, that London, Paris and Berlin called Washington to think it over. French president Emmanuel macron disclosed his intentions to make a visit to Iran, while German foreign office head Sigmar Gabriel declared that White House policy pushes Europe back from the USA and, moreover, causes it to get closer to China and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Iran in early November where he will have talks with the IRI President Hassan Rouhani. Among the problems discussed there will inevitably be the question of is the JCPOA future. Moscow will once again express its support to this International document.

Destruction of JCPOA by the United States will undermine trust to America and, most negative, to all talks on nuclear problems of the “threshold” countries aspiring to get nuclear weapons, first of all, North Korea, and to further lead two nuclear non-proliferation regime falling.

This or that way, this will cause the USA to become an outlaw country that will not have any moral rights to call anyone to negotiations on new nuclear agreements.

Trump must have understood the consequences of his resolution to leave JCPOA and did not declare it irrevocably. In conditions of a very hard internal policy situation in the USA, he shifted the responsibility for it to the Congress. The Congressmen have 60 days to think over and take a bill on sanctions due to the refusal of the IRI President regarding the conditions of the nuclear agreement and another 10 days for the voting process. That means that the fate of JCPOA will be solved December 24th. There are little partyzans of IRI in the USA, but there are many opponents to Trump. Thus, we don’t know how the Congress will behave in those December days. This is a hard game, just as in American football.

Another version is that the reason for the the anti Iranian campaign initiation is the fact that President Trump is trying to provoke Iran to unilaterally leave JCPOA. For Trump that would be a perfect variant.

In its turn, Iran is also playing its own game, because there are many opponents to this agreement. Now the country sees a hard game between relatively liberal surrounding of President Rouhani and his political and economic opponents.

One of them is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as well as politicians in the surrounding of Rouhani opponents at the recent election, Ebrahim Raisi and radical clerics. A special attention should be paid to IRGC, that is an organization that has not only military, but also economic power. By the way, in the period of hard sanctions, the structures of IRGC managed to find ways to pass over the limits gaining considerable funds from their activity. It’s natural that IRGC was not interested in lifting sanctions.

There is a political game on, and it is very active. Certainly, JCPOA, the IRI nuclear program which is the object of Iranian national pride, is in the center of this fight.

Antique Iranian activity of trump is playing for opponents of Hassan Rouhani who built his presidential career on conclusion of this nuclear agreement and lifting sanctions imposed on Iran. He managed to reach positive economic results, in his new year address to the nation on March this year he said: “The Iranian people, having taken the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions, reached the results we wished, the sanctions chains are broken… The sanctions in the sphere of banking, currency and financial operations, petrol and petrochemistry, insurance and transports – all these “nuclear sanctions” are lifted which created perfect conditions for economic activity of our people.” “I am certain, said president Rouhani, is that our joint effort inside the country and constructive interaction with the world will help our economy to grow and blossom.”

This is so. In 2013 the GDP fell 6% per annum, while in 2016 the Iranian economy grew about 4-6%. The fight on inflation was also successful causing it to fall from the unofficial 40% to around 10%.

JCPOA took Iran from the isolation. In two years Tehran was visited by dozens of state leaders and governments, while the amount of trade and economic delegations can be hardly counted at all. There was information on dozens of transactions for billions of dollars.
This August, when presenting a new cabinet to Majlis, President Rouhani declared that one of the external political priorities of the new government will be keeping the agreement on the nuclear program and its protection from the USA acts. “The most important task of the foreign minister is, first of all, to maintain JCPOA and not too loud USA and our opponents succeed,” Mr. Rouhani said. “Protecting JCPOA means to fight Iranian enemies,” the Iranian President said.

JCPOA destruction or yet even an attempt to do it by the White House will significantly strengthen president Rouhani’s opponents’ position which can eventually lead to serious consequences, up to forceful transition of the executive power from the incumbent president to his opponents. In this scenario, it’s possible that Iran will terminate JCPOA and IAEA will be removed from control over the nuclear activity of Iran which will once again make the IRI nuclear program active and reanimate its military component.
Such a scenario will cause a strong reaction of the USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia which is fraught with yet another possible military conflict in the Middle East.
Another danger is Trump’s resolution to include IRGC In the list of terrorist organization, putting it in line with Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

This caused immediate Tehran reaction. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran would retaliate very hard without giving any more further detail.
IRGC Chief commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari, in his turn, made a transparent hint that the Corps would include the US Army into the list of terrorist organizations and make it it’s target like ISIS all over the world, and first of all in the Middle East, to counteract Trump’s allegations in his address. General Jafari persistently recommended USA to leave the Middle East and stay at a distance of at least 2000 km from Iran (the operating range of Iranian medium-range ballistic missiles). There is information that Iranian missiles were retargeted to the objects related to the American Army located in the Middle East.

Thus, the “cold war” between USA and Iran up for almost 40 years is moving step by step into a critical phase thanks to efforts of President Trump’s Administration. Now it is not only Iran and a threat, but there’s a risk that it will spread onto the Middle East currently on fire, as well as the non-proliferation regime for nuclear weapons.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Middle East

Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Iran’s game just started

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By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran. 

At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.  

As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms. 
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.  

At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”. 

All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.  

Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme. 

At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.  

In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.  

The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”. 

It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.    

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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