The official name of the Iran Nuclear agreement is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. It was signed in Vienna on 14 July 2015 between the Islamic Republic of Iran on one side and France, Great Britain, China, Germany, Russia, and the US on the other. The alliance of France, Great Britain, China, Germany, Russia, and the US is known as the “P5 +1”. “P5” refers to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The “+1” is Germany.
The agreement came after nine long years of negotiations. After seven years, there was an interim agreement in preparation for the final deal.
The interim agreement was the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). It ran for twenty months from November 2013. During that time Iran had to meet a number of milestones in regard to its nuclear programme, which it did. As well as an interim agreement, the JPOA was a test for Iran to show that they could stick to a bargain.
On the achievement of each of the milestones in the JPOA, some of Iran’s international funds in escrow were released to them. The negotiators on both sides saw this as helping Iran get support for the agreement internally, which it did. However, for critics this was Iran being paid to stick to the deal. They thought a better test would be if Iran had no financial incentives to stick to the plan.
However, those critics fail to recognize that just as the US in particular doesn’t trust Iran, Iran has plenty of reasons not to trust the P5 + 1, especially the US. The US has, for example, meddled in the internal affairs of Iran a great deal in the past such as when they overthrew a popular leader and instead gave their support to the Shah. The Shah was a supporter of the US, but there were many undesirable aspects to his rule. In particular, his use of secret police and torture was widespread.
There is fault on both sides though many on the extreme right in both Iran and the US are unable to recognize this.
Iran’s Obligations under the JCPOA
There are five main requirements that Iran must meet in the Iran Nuclear agreement (JCPOA). They are:
1. Reduce their stockpile of uranium from 10,000 kgs to 300 kgs i.e. a reduction of 97%. They are not able to have more than 300 kgs of uranium, and that uranium must not be enriched to weapons grade.
2. They are only allowed to enrich uranium to a level of 3.67%. This is the level required to power a nuclear reactor. For medical research, uranium needs to be enriched to 20%. Uranium must be enriched to at least 90% to be used in a bomb.
3. Currently Iran has 20,000 centrifuges. They have to get rid of 14,000 of those and of the 6,000 remaining only 5,000 can be used for fissile material. The remaining 1,000 can only be used for research and development. In addition, the technology of centrifuges has improved since they began obtaining centrifuges. The 6,000 centrifuges they retain are those with the oldest technology.
4. Before this deal, there were NO inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They now inspect eighteen nuclear facilities as well as nine other facilities to ensure that Iran is meeting its obligations.
In return for all this, Iran got relief from the international economic sanctions that were crippling its economy, but had not stopped its nuclear programme. In fact, each time more sanctions were put on Iran, there was an increase in both centrifuges and their stockpile of uranium. This sanctions relief includes the lifting of banking restrictions that meant, among other things, Iran and Iranians couldn’t get access to funds held in overseas financial institutions.
A Diplomatic Solution Means No War
Before the signing of the Iran Nuclear agreement, the US was inching towards involvement in another war in the Middle East. That is, of course, the last thing anyone needs. To state the obvious, war is expensive. More importantly, people die or are permanently injured – both physically and psychologically.
A war would also create new resentments against the US in the region. The US seems to have this ability to snatch failure from success when it comes to military conflict in the Middle East. It all comes down to the way they treat the victims of their wars.
After World War II, the US made an effort to help rebuild Germany and Japan. To this day, those nations are successful and allies.
However, they’ve done a pretty poor job in some more recent conflicts. Following the Iraq War, for example, their programme of de-Ba’athification was a primary driver (though certainly not the only one) of Islamist terrorism in the country and the rise of DAESH.
“Giving” Iran Money for Signing the Iran Nuclear Agreement
One of the things I hear right-wing commentators complain about the most when it comes to the Iran Nuclear agreement is all the money the US “gave” Iran as a result. The US didn’t “give” Iran any money. The money already belonged to people, the government, and businesses in Iran. What happened is the US and most other countries froze their bank accounts in accordance with international sanctions. Thus, Iran couldn’t access their own money held overseas.
And that famous planeload of cash that Trump misrepresents every chance he gets? That was actually money that Iran paid to the US in 1979 to buy military equipment. The US didn’t deliver the goods due to the coup, and they didn’t give the money back. The failure of the US to refund several billion dollars for almost forty years is not a fault on Iran’s part! Trump may think it’s okay not to refund money when you fail to provide the goods. Most of us see that it’s actually about time Iran got their money back.
Further, Iran didn’t get their money back just for signing the agreement. First, they had to meet the terms of the agreement.
“Iran Will Use the Money They Get to Fund Terrorism”
It is true that both official and unofficial sources in Iran fund terrorism. Obviously that’s wrong. But the funding of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas is a priority of the Iranian government. When the Iranian economy was on its knees due to the international economic sanctions. That did nothing to stop the funding of their favourite terrorists. It’s the same as the situation in North Korea. North Koreans are at least two inches shorter on average than South Koreans and have a much shorter life span due to poor food, but that doesn’t stop the leadership investing heavily in nuclear weapons. If something is a priority, a government will do it.
How would you feel if you had money invested in Iran, and all of a sudden you couldn’t have it just because? It is possible, even likely, that Iran will use some of the money going back there for terrorism. However, most of it will be used by ordinary Iranians. The economy of the country will grow and the middle class will develop. Ordinary Iranians are already calling for more democracy. A growth in the middle class and an increase in their wealth will see those demands increase. The majority of Iranians do not support conservative Islam, and the independence that individual wealth will give them power.
Further, it was the moderate president Hassan Rouhani that negotiated the deal, not the conservative Ayatollah. This gives the moderates in politics more political support and therefore power too.
The most likely result of a more economically secure Iran is calls for greater democracy and freedom. Most Iranians want to be part of the world, and greater wealth will give them that opportunity.
The US Congress and the Iran Nuclear Agreement
Even before they knew what was in it, the Republican controlled Congress was complaining about it. The fact that it was the Democratic President Obama who was signing it was enough for many.
Other strong opposition to the deal, also before he knew what was in it, came from Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. As a result, several Democratic politicians also came out against the deal.
There was nothing Congress could do to stop the deal so instead they made a law that requires the president to certify whether or not Iran is in compliance every ninety days. No other country has this requirement. It’s a reactionary rule made by a petulant Congress, and it’s the reason this deal has become an issue now.
If it wasn’t for the certification requirement every ninety days, Secretary of State Tillerson could have kept President Trump distracted from the Iran Nuclear agreement. It would have been left alone to operate as it should. But the certification requirement brings the JCPOA back to Trump’s attention every three months and requires him to admit Obama got something right.
Trump Refuses to Re-Certify Iran Nuclear Agreement
Trump’s not personally capable of admitting something Obama did might be okay. It’s also difficult for him politically because his administration has so few wins on the board. Thus, as everyone knows by now, he recently refused to certify that Iran was complying with the agreement when the issue came up for the third time since he became president. This was despite the fact that Iran actually is currently complying with the terms of the Iran Nuclear agreement.
Instead he palmed the issue off onto his Congress, demanding they deal with it. In doing so he said:
In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.
General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and James Mattis, US Secretary of Defense, have both come out against this decision. They have also said that they believe the Iran Nuclear agreement delays Iran getting a nuclear weapon. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also confirms that Iran are meeting the terms of the agreement.
The problem with sending the agreement to Congress is there’s nothing they can do except confirm the deal. If they do anything else, it will be the US that broke the deal. They will be the ones in violation, and they will be the ones to give Iran an excuse to re-start their nuclear programme.
Iran probably wouldn’t actually do that. They would make another statement that they will be sticking with the agreement, this time with the other partners to the deal.
In this way Iran will have a moral victory over the US. They will be the adults in the room.
If Trump is worried about the way he looks now, it’s nothing to how he will look if and when that happens.
Why is Trump Refusing to Certify the Iran Nuclear Agreement?
There are several reasons I think Trump is doing this.
Firstly, I think he just wants to oppose anything President Obama did as a matter of course. He appears to take some kind of personal pleasure in dismantling anything Obama was part of creating. He seems unable to handle that so many compare his character unfavourably with Obama.
Secondly, he thinks this sort of thing makes him look tough. Bullying is not strength. Always raising to the bait is not strength.
Thirdly, he hasn’t kept many of his campaign promises. He needs to get a “win” on the board, and this is one of the things he’s chosen. The fact that it’s actually a major loss doesn’t worry him. It’s how it looks to his base that matters. Iran makes a good whipping boy: they’re Muslim, they have a history of denying the Holocaust, and they’re always threatening Israel and the US. Many still remember the US Embassy hostage crisis in Iran too.
Fourthly, it does make some US allies happy. Specifically, Saudi Arabia, who are fighting proxy wars with Iran all over the Middle East and North Africa. Saudi Arabia did a really good job of sucking up to Trump and treating him as he thinks he deserves – like a king. Shi’a dominated Iran has been growing in influence in the region due to their support of Iraq against DAESH. US ally Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia hates this.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement is Not a Bilateral Deal
One of the more annoying things about the way Trump talks about the Iran Nuclear agreement is as if whether it stands or falls is up to him. However, it’s not up to Trump whether this agreement is terminated and he cannot decide that. He does not have that power. He cannot “rip it up”.
Whether he likes it or not, the Iran Nuclear agreement is not a bilateral agreement between the US and Iran. The other countries that were part of the negotiations are also signatories. None of the other countries want a renegotiation of this deal. Since Trump’s statement several, including Iran, have publicly reiterated their support for the agreement. Whatever the US does, the Iran Nuclear agreement will remain in place.
A joint statement from Britain, France and Germany reads:
We stand committed to the JCPOA [Iran Nuclear agreement] and its full implementation by all sides. Preserving the JCPOA is in the shared national security interest.
The British government even put out a video expressing their ongoing support for the JCPOA because of the problems Trump is causing with his failure to stick to the agreement.
President Trump is so wrong about the Iran Deal that the British government made a video debunking him pic.twitter.com/qLRqhDTkus
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) October 16, 2017
All Trump is proving is that the rest of the world can no longer rely on the US to stick to its promises.
“Iran is Not Sticking to the Spirit of the Deal”
This is the excuse of opponents of the deal upon reminding them that Iran is not in violation of the JCPOA. Many, including Trump himself, have used those exact words. What they are all referring to is that Iran continues with its very large missile defence programme.
However, that is irrelevant. Of course it’s not good that Iran has a missile programme, but it’s not the point. The JCPOA is about Iran’s nuclear programme and requires them to stick to a set of conditions in relation to that. So far, they are doing that. You can’t break a contract because the other party does something you don’t like that isn’t part of the contract.
Iran is sticking to the nuclear agreement. Get over it. Saying “Iran is not sticking to the spirit of the deal” makes the US seem small and petty and they look to be making an excuse not to stick to their side of deal.
Trust and International Diplomacy
Trump is continuing to damage the reputation of the US, and not just in relation to this deal. In addition, it is extremely important that when international leaders meet with the US Secretary of State that they know he speaks for the president. Because Trump continues to undermine his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, it is difficult for him to negotiate on behalf of the country.
One of the most important things about the way international diplomacy works is trust. Ever since Trump became president there has been a problem with this. Early in his presidency there were questions about whether the US would stick to Article 5 of the NATO agreement because of Trump suggesting he would not. Tillerson said that the US would meet it’s obligations, but nobody could trust his word because of his boss’s grandstanding.
That doesn’t just affect the Iran Nuclear agreement. It is also a problem in every other situation where Rex Tillerson is speaking on behalf of the US, including in relation to North Korea. How can anyone rely on what Tillerson says when they don’t know whether he’s really speaking for the president?
It goes further than that too. Trump’s failure to keep the word of the US on the international stage may become an excuse in the future for other countries not to stick to their side of a deal, and the problem may extend into future presidencies.
“The Great Dealmaker?”
The above is the start of a headline in today’s Washington Post: ‘The great dealmaker? Lawmakers find Trump to be an untrustworthy negotiator.‘ It’s about the internal issues in the US lawmakers are having trying to negotiate with President Trump. The problems are similar to those in the international realm.
Whether or not Trump was a good dealmaker in the business realm I’m not in a position to judge. I would say though that it’s a different environment. In international diplomacy, there’s a requirement for everyone to get something from a deal. Those who negotiate them have to be able to sell them back home. It’s not possible to get everything you want and that’s what critics of the Iran Nuclear agreement are failing to understand.
The deal isn’t perfect – for either side. It took nine years to get to a point where both sides had an agreement they could live with. Many will remember that it seemed to many that when President Rouhani was talking about the deal in Iran he seemed to be talking about a different deal than President Obama was in the US. That wasn’t the case. Rouhani was simply emphasizing different things in order to sell the deal at home. That’s politics.
It’s a Good Deal
Because of the Iran Nuclear agreement, the Iranian nuclear programme has been stopped in its tracks. Without that agreement, Iran would have a bomb by now. If sanctions had gone on any longer trying to get a tougher deal, the likelihood is that Iran would have had a bomb before negotiations started, Then it would be too late. The sanctions weren’t stopping the nuclear programme. This agreement has. Sure it’s not for infinity, but it would be ridiculous to expect that.
As things stand, it will be at least ten years before Iran can start work again, and who knows what will happen by then? In he meantime, if Iran secretly restarts their nuclear programme, it will be at least twelve months before they have enough enriched uranium for one bomb. And, the inspections regime means they will almost certainly get caught before that.
The world is a safer place because of the Iran Nuclear agreement.
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