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Resurrecting the Reneged Deal

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Standing tall as a key negotiator, the U.S. has parlayed most of the initial dialogues into historical successes. Whether it comes to sowing seeds of diplomacy with the European Union (EU) or leading efforts to strengthen frayed relations in the Middle East, there are only a few instances where the world power has fallen short in its agenda. What’s congruent in these failures, however, is the lack of flair, overconfidence, and rescinding of the promises made. These pitfalls have costed the U.S. more than the dividends gained. Whether it’s the untimely invasion of Afghanistan, interference in Iraq and Syria, or the economic revolt against the People’s Republic of China, the U.S. failed to capitalize on the gains once envisioned. The otherwise pristine record of the United States’ diplomatic successes, however, is tainted by the infamous rift with the Islamic Republic of Iran: once a valuable ally and now a staunch enemy. A passage of the resolution was missed a few years ago and now it’s more than essential to restore the sour relations. The time, however, stands short.

The Nuclear Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a landmark accord signed in July 2015 between Iran and core regional and global powers including the United States. The democrat regime, then led by President Barak Obama, forged the deal along with other countries making up the lobby known as P5+1: five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Russia, France, UK, China, and the U.S.) and Germany. The deal negotiated a bargain of up to $100 billion in revenue through relaxation in sanctions imposed over Iran. In exchange, Iran committed to forgo its Nuclear Program to the point that if it were to direct efforts to generate nuclear weaponry, it would take at least a year to complete. This would allow the P5+1 ample time to respond. The restriction program under the JCPOA agreement mandated Iran to restrict its Uranium and Plutonium enrichment to a maximum limit of 3.67% whilst simultaneously dismantling its nuclear centrifuges. Moreover, the agreement urged Iran to allow the United Nations’ watchdog, known as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), unfettered access to its nuclear facilities; both declared and undeclared. This clause was intended to ensure that Iran was complying with the limits and restrictions dictated by the JCPOA agreement. With the representatives of the P5+1 making up the review teams of the IAEA inspections, the review allowed the parties to monitor and inspect Iran’s nuclear potential and safeguard against any violation.

The intention underlying the agreement was more urgent than many originally fathomed. What was initially perceived as collusion against Iran was a plan to reform the relations before it was too late. With Iran’s nuclear activity ramping up since 2003, it was only a matter of months before Iran achieved nuclear ammunition, had it intended to build one. Any effort or even a rumour of nuclear activation within Iran could reignite the havoc the world witnessed in the civil wars of Iraq and Syria. A nuclear expedition by Iran could birth a whole new spiral of crises laced with regional disparity. Starting with Israel, the Zionist state would have left very little discretion in its efforts to thump down the nuclear threat. Similar to how Israel has launched drone attacks over the years against the alleged nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria, it would have most probably opted to decimate the facilities had Iran so much as insinuated inching towards nuclear nukes. Unlike Iraq and Syria, however, Iran would have retaliated with a far destructive power-play of tensile resistance. The possibility of the escalation alone could have tumulted the region to the brink of disaster.

Moreover, the proxy factions, arguably financed by the state of Iran, could have developed into a far graver threat had Iran ventured through to develop nuclear weaponry. Whether it comes to Hezbollah in Lebanon or Irani rebels in Syria, even an inkling of nuclear capability could have plunged the region into another bout of chaotic warfare, deadlier than the aftermath of the Arab spring. Lastly, with Iran sauntering towards nuclear arms, its regional rival i.e., the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, insinuated multiple times of developing nuclear weapons as a safeguard against the Iranian offensive. All in all, letting Iran sail through towards nuclear weaponry could have paved a gully towards catastrophe in the Middle East, potentially morphing the world into warfare similar to the World Wars.  These sinister possibilities made the agreement ever more urgent and significant.

Under the reformist vision of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, Iran agreed to the deal after years of defiance and outright refusal of a dialogue. Not only Iran limited its Uranium enrichment to the set standards but it also took remedial steps in its nuclear facilities in Arak, Fordow, and Natanz to comply with the set agreement. The nuclear limits were claimed to be used for medical and industrial use whilst controlling the centrifuges from accumulating refined levels of Uranium and Plutonium. It is notable to observe that Iran never officially claimed to be pursuing a nuclear weapon in the first place. The eerie capabilities of refinement, however, implied a heavier truth than the words gave away.

Moreover, Iran reluctantly allowed the IAEA teams to inspect its nuclear facilities and publish quarterly review reports. The unhindered access to the United Nations Security Council was frowned upon in the echelons of Iranian politics, particularly by the right-wing factions of the Iranian parliament. However, President Hassan Rouhani played a crucial role in persuading the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to decree the clauses of the deal for the sake of the welfare of the citizens of Iran living a destitute lifestyle due to the exacerbated sanctions imposed on Iran. The deal reaped sanctions relief for Iran both from the United States and the European Union. While many of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. remained in effect, primarily targeting Iran’s Ballistic Missile program and its alleged involvement in terror financing activities in the region, economic relief flowed through when the U.S. and EU unfroze the $100 billion worth of Iranian assets whilst simultaneously lifting trade embargoes off the oil and weaponry trade. The economic relief allowed a breathing room to Iran and a mark of prosperity to the reformist factions within Iran.

The diplomatic strike of president Rouhani, however, was short-lived as President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Nuclear Deal in 2018, leaving the remaining parties of the P5+1 in utter dismay and disappointment. Coupled with the exit from the JCPOA, the U.S. slammed excessive sanctions on Iran as an offensive to bring down the already dismal economy and rattle the state to the point of submission. The vision, however, backfired. Iran retaliated by boasting its nuclear enrichment from the agreed 3.67% to a whopping 20%. With 90% refinement necessary for a nuclear weapon, Iran hinted to attempt its development by building new centrifuges in the Fordow and Arak facilities. While the EU trend to bypass the U.S. banking system to facilitate Iranian transactions to keep the agreement afloat, the system failed to offer coverage to any ambit besides food and medicine: areas already exempted from the U.S. sanctions.

The situation deteriorated further when the U.S. attacks killed one of the most revered figures of the Iranian Military, Qassim Soleimani, in an airstrike in Iraq. Coupled with expanding sanctions imposed on countries trading with Iran including blacklisting Chinese oil companies dealing with Iran, the Iranian oil exports were brought back to zilch. Iran, in response, rebuked the EU for bowing down to the U.S. unilateralism. Iran played the last straw by impeding the IAEA inspections whilst continuing the refinement of Uranium in its facilities. This brought the world back to the fears that originally framed the need for the JCPOA agreement.

While President Biden was part of the Obama administration, which originally forged the JCPOA in 2016, the time and temperament have significantly shifted. President Biden repeatedly emphasized the importance of returning to the deal if Iran pulled back from the retaliations and violations from the agreement. The Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, clearly stated that “The ball is in their [Iran] court” i.e., if Iran returns to the standards set by the JCPOA, the U.S. would agree to join the deal again. Iran, however, has made it clear that it would only comply once the U.S. lifts the unfair sanctions imposed by the former president. President Rouhani stated: “America was first in breaking with the agreement and it should be the first to return to it”. With the dilemma looming the Nuclear Deal, the time is short. As the clock ticks, president Rouhani is inching towards his departure. Not long before President Rouhani leaves office in June 2021. President Hassan Rouhani would want to forge the deal before his exit since his political acumen was tainted when the U.S. pulled out of the deal and proved the far-right factions right, who even accused Rouhani of betrayal. Thus, the window of dialogue could purge president Rouhani from the failure attributed to his name.

On the other hand, the hard-liners in Iran are expected to ascend to the office in September. Unlike President Rouhani, however, the deal would be intercepted by the right-wing factions in power given their distaste for the U.S. especially after the violations and murders committed by the United States. President Biden could have a hard time negotiating a lucrative deal with the hard-liners as so implied by Mohammad Javed Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister: “A lot of things can happen between now and September. So, it is advisable for the United States to move fast”. President Biden, however, faces excessive pressure from the echelons of the Republican Party to negotiate a broader agreement providing coverage over Iran’s ballistic missile program and terror financing along with the initial nuclear deal. However, with time running short, President Biden has to reach an agreement in the house fairly quickly and assume the role of a facilitator to reap the trust of Iran to return to the deal. Either a disagreement in the house or failure to bargain a deal by June 2021, the U.S. could potentially run into an impasse and might lose the opportunity to strike a deal indefinitely.

The author is a political and economic analyst. He focuses on geopolitical policymaking and international affairs. Syed has written extensively on fintech economy, foreign policy, and economic decision making of the Indo-Pacific and Asian region.

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Middle East

Qatar World Cup offers lessons for human rights struggles

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It’s a good time, almost 12 years after the world soccer body, FIFA, awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup hosting rights and five months before the tournament, to evaluate the campaign to reform the country’s erstwhile onerous labor system and accommodate fans whose lifestyles violate restrictive laws and/or go against deeply rooted cultural attitudes.

Ultimately the balance sheet shows a mixed bag even if one takes into account that Qatari autocracy has proven to be more responsive and flexible in responding to pressure by human rights and labour groups than its Gulf brothers in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

On the plus side, the initial wave of condemnation of the country’s repressive kafala labour system that put employees at the mercy of their employers persuaded Qatar to become the first Gulf state, if not the first Arab state, to engage with its critics.

Engagement meant giving human rights groups and trade unions access to the country, allowing them to operate and hold news conferences in Qatar, and involving them in drafting reforms and World Cup-related model labour contracts. This was unprecedented in a region where local activists are behind bars or worse and foreign critics don’t even make it onto an inbound flight.

The reforms were imperfect and not far-reaching enough, even if Qatar introduced significant improvements in the conditions for unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

Furthermore, on the plus side, the hosting rights sparked limited but nonetheless taboo-breaking discussions that touched on sensitive subjects such as LGBT rights and the granting of citizenship to non-nationals.

Qataris openly questioned the granting of citizenship to foreign athletes so they could be included in the Qatar national team for the 2016 Olympics rather than medical personnel and other professionals who had contributed to national welfare and development.

Hosting the World Cup has further forced Qatar, albeit in a limited fashion, to come to grips with issues like LGBT rights that do not simply violate the country’s laws but go against its social grain to produce an inclusive tournament.

In some ways, that may have been more difficult than reforming the labour regime if one considers the difference between standing up for democratic freedoms that may have broad public support and the recognition of LGBT rights. In contrast to democratic rights, opposition to LGBT rights is deeply engrained in Qatar and other Muslim societies. It would likely be socially rejected, even if they were enshrined in law.

The difference means that the defense of LGBT and other socially controversial rights forces activists and human and LGBT rights groups to rethink their strategies and adopt alternative, more long-term approaches.

It also means that they will have to embrace less Western-centric attitudes frequently prevalent in the campaign to reform Qatar’s labour system. Those attitudes were evident in debates that were also often skewed by bias, prejudice, bigotry, and sour grapes.

Moreover, the criticism often failed to consider the context. As a result, achieving results and pushing for reform was, to a degree, undermined by what appeared to be a ganging up on Qatar and a singling out of the Gulf state.

Labour is an example. Human rights groups and trade unions treated onerous labour conditions in Qatar, even if the World Cup turned it into a prime target, as uniquely Qatari rather than a global problem that manifests itself in other parts of the world such as Southeast Asia and even Western democracies like Britain. Recent reporting by The Guardian showed that expatriate medical and caregiver personnel face similar curtailing of rights and abuse in Britain.

By the same token, Qatar was taken to task for being slow in implementing its reforms and ensuring that they were applied not only to World Cup projects but nationwide.

The fact is that lagging enforcement of policies and legal changes is a problem across the broad spectrum of Qatari policies and reform efforts, including the Gulf state’s high-profile, fast-paced, mediation-driven foreign policy.

Qatar’s handling of illegal recruitment fees paid by workers is a case in point.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the Qatari organizer of the World Cup, has obliged companies it contracts to repay the fees without workers having to provide proof of payment. Companies have so far pledged to repay roughly USD$28.5 million to some 49,000 workers, $22 million of which have already been paid out.

It is a step the government could apply nationally with relative ease to demonstrate sincerity and, more fundamentally, counter the criticism.

Similarly, in response to complaints raised by human rights groups and others, the government could also offer to compensate families of workers who die on construction sites. Again, none of these measures would dent Qatari budgets but would earn the Gulf state immeasurable goodwill.

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Middle East

‘Effort and patience’ required to restore Iran nuclear agreement

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A view from the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in Iran. (file) Photo: IAEA/Paolo Contri

Despite diplomatic engagements, restoring the so-called Iran nuclear agreement continues to be hindered by political and technical differences, the UN political and peacebuilding chief told the Security Council on Thursday.
 

In the landmark accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – reached in 2015 between Iran, the United States, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom – Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear programme and open its facilities to international inspections in exchange for sanctions relief.

In 2018, then-President Trump withdrew the US from the agreement and reinstated the sanctions.

Achieving the landmark JCPOA took determined diplomacy. Restoring it will require additional effort and patience,” said UN political affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo.

Although the landmark Joint Commission to restore the Plan resumed in November 2021, she acknowledged that despite their determination to resolve the issues, the US and other participants are yet to return to “full and effective implementation of the Plan, and [Security Council] resolution 2231”.

Appealing to both

Together with the Secretary-General, she urged Iran and the US to “quickly mobilize” in “spirit and commitment” to resume cooperation under the JCPOA.

They welcomed the reinstatement by the US in February of waivers on nuclear non-proliferation projects and appealed to the country to lift its sanctions, as outlined in the Plan, and extend oil trade waivers.

Together they also called on on Iran to reverse the steps it has taken that are inconsistent with its nuclear-related commitments under the Plan.

Monitoring enrichment

While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been unable to verify the stockpile of enriched uranium in Iran, it estimates that there is currently more than 15 times the allowable amount under the JCPOA, including uranium enriched to 20 and 60 per cent, which Ms. DiCarlo called “extremely worrying”.

Moreover, on 8 and 20 June, IAEA reported that Iran had started to install additional advanced centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz and began feeding uranium into advanced centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant at Fordow.

In his latest report, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, informed the Council that the UN agency’s ability to verify and confirm the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities are key to the JCPOA’s full and effective implementation.

Iran’s decision to remove site cameras and place them and the data they collected under Agency seals, “could have detrimental implications”.

Improved relationships ‘key’

Bilateral and regional initiatives to improve relationships with Iran remain “key” and should be encouraged and built upon, according to Ms. DiCarlo.

Additionally, Member States and the private sector are urged to use available trade instruments to engage with Iran and Tehran is requested to address their concerns in relation to resolution 2231 (2015) on its nuclear issues.

The senior UN official also drew attention to annex B of the resolution, updating ambassadors in the Council on nuclear-related provisions, ballistic missiles and asset freezing.

We hope that diplomacy will prevail – UN political chief

Triumph for multilateralism

The JCPOA was a triumph for non-proliferation and multilateralism,” said the UN political affairs head.

However, after many years of uncertainty, she warned that the Plan is now at “a critical juncture” and encouraged Iran and the US to build on recent momentum to resolve remaining issues.

“The Secretary-General is convinced there is only one path to lasting peace and security for all Member States, and that is the one based on dialogue and cooperation,” she said.  “We hope that diplomacy will prevail”. 

In Iran’s best interest

Olof Skoog, Head of the European Union Delegation to the UN, speaking in his capacity as the Coordinator of the Joint Commission established by the JCPOA, to the Security Council, recognized the negative economic consequences that the US’ withdrawal from the JCPOA has had on Iran but affirmed that restoring the agreement is “the only way” for the country to reap its full benefits.

He reminded that the Plan would comprehensively lift sanctions, encourage greater international cooperation, and allow Iran to reach its “full economic potential”.  

“It is, therefore, important to show the necessary political will and pragmatism to restore the JCPOA,” said Ambassador Skoog who, while acknowledging the sense of urgency, counselled against “escalatory steps” and to preserve sufficient space for the diplomatic efforts to succeed.

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Middle East

Dynamic diplomacy: From SCO to BRICS

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Image source: Tehran Times

The tree of Iran’s balanced foreign policy approach is on the verge of being a one-year-old child. Stronger than before, Iran is pursuing dynamic diplomacy in a variety of cities such as Doha, Ashgabat, and other capitals. Baghdad will also join the list soon.

While Iran’s top negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is engaged in intensive negotiations in Qatar with the United States through the European Union delegation, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and his oil and foreign ministers are in Ashgabat pursuing transit diplomacy as well as the legal regime of the Caspian Sea with the littoral states. 

Prior to his departure for Ashgabat on Wednesday, Raisi spoke to reporters about the purpose of his visit to Turkmenistan. 

“This visit is taking place at the invitation of the esteemed president of the brotherly and friendly country of Turkmenistan in order to attend the Caspian Sea littoral states summit,” he remarked.

The President called the Caspian Sea a common heritage and capital for the littoral states with more than 270 million people. 

“We have good relations with the littoral states of the Caspian Sea, but in addition to reviewing the legal regime of the Caspian Sea and peaceful use of the sea for the purpose of improving security at the sea, what will be discussed at the sixth summit of the Caspian Sea littoral states is cooperation between countries in the fields of transport, transit, trade, management of marine living resources, environment, as well as preventing the presence of outsiders in the sea, which is also agreed upon by all coastal countries.”

Prior to the beginning of the summit, Raisi met Serdar Berdimuhamedow, Turkmenistan’s President, as well as Chairman of the People’s Council of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.

During the meeting with the President of Turkmenistan, Raisi pointed out that the implementation of the memoranda of understanding and cooperation documents signed by the two countries during Berdimuhamedow’s recent visit to Tehran will accelerate promotion of cooperation between the two countries.

Later, Raisi met with the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev. 

During the meeting, Raisi reminded Aliyev that the presence of the Israeli regime in any part of the world undermines security there.

The president also had a brief meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the summit. 

There’s little doubt that Tehran has not put all its eggs into the basket of the JCPOA revival, as it actively seeks to establish trade relations with the neighbors. It’s short-sighted thinking to assume that Iran has to wait for the United States to return to the JCPOA, while it can enjoy the benefits of regional alliances such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), or BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). 

On Monday, Iran’s former Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, who was holding his last presser, told the Tehran Times correspondent that Tehran has submitted a membership request to the BRICS secretariat via Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian. While dynamically trailing balanced and active diplomacy with the neighbors, Tehran is awaiting Washington’s serious political decisions to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Source: Tehran Times

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