The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed by the five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the European Union in 2015. It has largely been on ice since US President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in 2018. For a long time, the deal was lauded as a major European joint foreign policy achievement. Now it looks seriously under threat.
The hardliners in the regime seem to have gained the upper hand. Tehran says it has now resumed enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity at its underground facility in Fordo. While that is still a long way off the levels needed to make weapons-grade uranium, it is far above the three or so percent agreed in the deal — a limit that Tehran has been breaching for some time now. Iran also says it will no longer allow inspectors from the nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, in Vienna access to its facilities. Tehran’s seizing of a South Korean tanker and its cynical policy of detaining foreigners or dual nationals under trumped-up charges — in what are essentially acts of hostage-taking — is hardly reassuring. But the regime’s announcement that it has once more increased uranium enrichment levels is a declaration of war on the international community.
The aim of the 2015 nuclear deal was to stop Iran becoming an atomic power that could put its neighbours under pressure and further destabilize this powder-keg region. Tehran’s military influence is keeping the conflict in Syria smouldering and acting as a spoiler for international peace efforts. The idea that the state could become a nuclear power is the stuff of nightmares for the West.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has criticized the regime’s announced change of course. However, moderates like himself are currently losing ground and there are presidential elections slated for summer. The hardliners are gaining traction and pushing forward aggressively. Even Iranian experts are asking themselves how the regime can afford new centrifuges and an expanded nuclear program in the light of latest US sanctions which have plunged the country deeper into economic crisis. But this is clearly not about economics. Tehran has thrown down the gauntlet before the international community. Blackmail is the name of the game. Iran has vowed to quickly return to the conditions set out in the deal, if the other signatories, in particular Washington, also uphold the agreement.
The move is a slap in the face for the new US administration. Joe Biden’s team of advisors had indicated that it would consider resuscitating the accord. But Tehran’s flagrant breach of the agreement will make it hard for Biden to convince a domestic audience.
Iran’s decision to move on uranium enrichment shortly after the anniversary of the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani by a US drone is intended to demonstrate the regime’s power and serve as a signal for nationalists.
Up to now, the best allies of the Iranian regime have been sitting in Paris, London and Berlin. Over and over again they have reached out to the government in Tehran and given economic and political support. Shortly before Christmas, they declared that they were prepared to resume talks with Iran without setting any preconditions.
But the Europeans have received nothing in exchange: no concessions or cooperation. When German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently, called on Iran not to squander the last window of opportunity for rapprochement with the United States, his appeal seemed almost desperate and it has clearly fallen on deaf ears. We can no longer avoid confronting the government in Tehran. When world powers signed the nuclear accord in 2015, they were hoping to open a chapter of constructive cooperation with Iran, but the only way left to achieve that is with concrete trade-offs.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle