Is the Iran Nuclear Deal practically dead?


Morgenthau has rightly stated, the world politics is all about the struggle for power. As here the powerful do what it wants to do and the weak accept what it has to accept. The Powerful engages the weak states in agreements when it’s favorable for them, and withdraws from it when feels likely, no matter if it’s against the will and desires of the weak. The same is the case of the Joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA), an agreement on Iran nuclear program reached in Vienna on 14-July 2015 between the Islamic Republic of Iran and 5 permanent members of UNSC (China, Russia, USA, UK, France) along with Germany. 

Under the agreement, several restrictions were placed on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanction relief. All of which was endorsed by UNSC Resolution-2231 and Iran’s compliance has to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This effort took almost 2 years and finally Obama administration under his “constructive engagement policy “achieved it in 2015 as he stated, “This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction and we should seize it.” 

However, with former President of United States, Donald Trump coming to power, he smashed the deal by calling it a historical blunder, and on 8 May-2018 under his “Maximum pressure policy” unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal and reinstate sanctions on Iran. According to Donald Trump, the deal has failed to curtail Iran’s missile program as Iran began ignoring the limitations on its nuclear program a year later. Former US secretary of State, Mike Pompeo announced on May. 27 2020, that all UN sanctions uplifted under the nuclear deal be re-imposed on Iran.

Here one thing is made clear by the United States that it is the world of powerful where only the strong set rules of the game and can break them anytime it wants even if it’s against the very will of Iran or the provisions agreed under the deal. Yet, important now is to see whether USA withdrawal has made the deal practically dead? And is the newly elected United States President, Joe Biden be able to re-join it with the same enthusiasm? To figure out these unanswered questions we have to jump into the reality of the hard geo-politics at play. 

A deep analysis reveals Iran’s complete compliance with the agreement and it is in reality the United States that has unilaterally withdrawal from the agreement to secure its key interest. Therefore, in response to this and upon top IRGC commander Qasim Sulemani killing by the US airstrike, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a speech on Jan. 10 2019 announced “Iran no longer adhere to the 2015 nuclear deal.

This clears the picture that JCPOA is no more in a workable position and is practically dead as Iran after the USA withdrawal has announced its non-compliance to the agreement. Not just this, but Iran too in recent years has started working again on its nuclear capacities. The idea of which can be gained from the following violations done by Iran since 2019. 

The first of this violation was done back in May 2019 when Iran claimed its breach of the JCPOA limits due to failure of the deal to deliver sanctions relief as proposed. Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani stated “Iran would no longer limit low-enriched uranium stockpiles to 300 kilograms or limit heavy water stockpiles to 130 metric tonnes”.

This desecration happened on May 8, 2019, when Iran started enrichment of uranium stockpiles which was reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to its reports, “Iran breached the uranium stockpile limit on July 1, 2019, by exceeding 300kg, the uranium enrichment from 3.67% to 4.5%, and the heavy water limit on Nov. 17, 2019, crossed 130 metric tons.” 

Moving further, under the Nuclear Deal Iran was prohibited from enriching uranium with 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges for the coming 10 years and was restricted from building hot cells beyond certain specifications. Yet, right after the USA withdrawal, Iran has violated this restriction as IAEA reported on 25th April 2019 “Iran had installed 33 advanced IR-6 centrifuges, of which 10 are being tested with uranium, at its Natanz plant”. 

Followed by this was Sept.5 2019, when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced: “that its commitments for limited research and development under the JCPOA would be completely removed”. This is what happened as on Sept. 7, 2019, the IAEA verified Iran’s installment of advanced centrifuges and by Sept. 25, it reported Iran accumulation of enriched uranium from advanced machines. Not just this, but it also started transferring uranium gas from Natanz to Fordow facility.

Lastly, Iran Foreign minister, Javad Zarif announced on Jan. 5 that “Iran nuclear program will no longer be subject to “any operational restrictions” that were put in place by the JCPOA and going forward Iran’s activities will be based on its “technical needs.” 

Hence, summing up it’s clear that the USA withdrawal from JCPOA has made the deal practically dead. However, it’s not just about the deal but is more about the far-off consequences attached with the unilateral withdrawal of the USA and the subsequent reaction of Iran. The hope is now with the new President of the United States, Joe Biden as he stated in his presidential campaign that “maximum pressure” policy has failed, it led to escalations in tensions, and Iran is now closer to a nuclear weapon than it was when Trump came to office. Moreover, he has pledged to rejoin the nuclear accord if Iran returns to strict compliance but till then sanctions won’t be uplifted. This is met positively by Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani as he announced to be ready to talk to Joe Biden administration about reviving the deal. To conclude, if President Joe Biden will be able to rejoin the Nuclear Deal then future stability seems likely, otherwise, the existing situation only forecasts instability in the region.

Ayesha Zafar
Ayesha Zafar
My name is Ayesha Zafar and I am pursuing my Bachelors in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. I have authored multiple academic publications including research articles and book chapters. My areas of interest include Middle Eastern politics, the geopolitics of Central Asia, and Indo-Pacific region.


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