By Mohammad Mazhari

Any pre-condition will complicate return to JCPOA: Fitzpatrick

January 13, 2021 - 12:5

TEHRAN – A group of experts on non-proliferation and diplomacy penned a letter to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, calling for an immediate return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The letter, published on January 7, carries more than 50 signatures, among them is Mark Fitzpatrick, an associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. 

The signatories believe Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy towards Iran has “failed” and described the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May 2018 as a “self-inflicted wound” which has “set the U.S. on a destructive path with no easy offramp.”

Fitzpatrick, former executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, warns any pre-condition for a possible return of the incoming Biden administration to the JCPOA will “complicate” the situation to revive the agreement.

“Demanding additional conditions, as U.S. hawks advocate, would needlessly complicate negotiations, allowing the security situation to worsen,” Fitzpatrick tells the Tehran Times. 

“Assassinating Fakhrizadeh had no legal basis or strategic purpose.  I believe it was intended to provoke Iran into taking retaliatory action that would impede Biden’s ability to restore the JCPOA.”  “A quick and clean restoration of the nuclear deal is the best way to avoid a war,” the senior analyst notes.
The following is the text of an interview with Mark Fitzpatrick:

Q: You are among a group of experts on non-proliferation and diplomacy who penned a letter to Joe Biden and his incoming administration encouraging their immediate return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Could you explain the motives of such a move?

 A:    To make a clean break from Trump’s failed Iran policy, President-elect Biden should seek a clean return to the JCPOA. Demanding additional conditions, as U.S. hawks advocate, would needlessly complicate negotiations, allowing the security situation to worsen, and would make it appear as though Biden was prolonging Trump’s failed policy. I did not draft the letter; if I had, I would have clarified that restoration of U.S. commitments should be on the basis of “compliance for compliance.”  It would be difficult for Biden to return to the JCPOA if Iran is still violating its provisions. But I wholeheartedly support the call for immediate action to revive diplomat channels. Quick and clean restoration of the nuclear deal is the best way to avoid a war.  A quick return to the JCPOA would also restore American credibility and the prospects for a diplomatic solution to other issues of concern.

 Q: You believe the Trump administration’s policy towards Iran has “failed” and the U.S. exit from JCPOA in May 2018 was a “self-inflicted wound”, while Trump has described the JCPOA as a real “catastrophe” for the U.S. What were the advantages of U.S. commitment to the nuclear deal?

 A:  The JCPOA was advantageous to the U.S. because it rolled back Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities and provided for expanded monitoring to detect and thereby deter cheating.  Informally, the deal also provided a basis for the U.S. to engage with Iran on other issues of concern, including Iran’s interventions (presence) in Syria and Yemen.  Trump’s abrupt withdrawal was a self-inflicted wound because Iran was in full compliance with the deal at the time, and now it has exceeded all of the limits on uranium enrichment.

  
Q: Do you expect Biden to return to the JCPOA without any pre-conditions? It seems that any pre-condition may hamper reaching an understanding.
 A:  I have no inside information about the incoming administration’s plans, but I believe Biden will be inclined to return to the deal without preconditions.  The most definitive statement of his Iran policy was a 13 September commentary on CNN.com, in which he said would re-join the accord if Iran returned to strict compliance with the deal. Relatedly, he would work to strengthen and extend the JCPOA’s provisions, while also addressing other issues of U.S. concern.  I took this to mean that improving the accord and dealing with the other issues could come after the deal is first restored.  Many of the capable people whom Biden has chosen for his administration worked on the JCPOA and know very well that adding conditions would prolong and overly complicate the effort to restore it.

Q:  Don’t you think that Trump may ignite a war in his last days of the presidency under the pretext of Iran’s nuclear program? Is he authorized to take such a step?
 A:  President Trump has conflicting impulses in this regard.  On one hand, he is an isolationist who has sought to avoid engaging the United States in foreign wars.  On the other hand, he sees Iran as an arch-enemy and he may think, delusionally, that creating a crisis by attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities could somehow keep him in office. 

Many Democrats and security experts would say he does not have the authority to do this because the U.S. Constitution reserves to Congress the right to declare war.  But this Constitutional provision has been weakened over the years, and Trump would probably claim that a 2001 Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force against perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks gives him the authority to launch strikes.

One debatable legal rationale would be that Iran has harbored members of Al Qaeda.  While I do not rule out anything, I do not think Trump in his remaining few days in office would launch an attack, especially after the trouble he got into by instigating an insurrection to try to stop the January Congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory.

Q: How do you assess the repercussions of U.S.-Israeli moves against Iran, especially after the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?

A:   Assassinating Fakhrizadeh had no legal basis or strategic purpose.  I believe it was intended to provoke Iran into taking retaliatory action that would impede Biden’s ability to restore the JCPOA.  Iran wisely refrained from lethal retaliation, although its moves in other areas, such as increasing uranium enrichment to 20% and seizing a Korean oil tanker, will further complicate diplomatic efforts to restore the JCPOA and relax tensions.

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