By Mohammad Mazhari

JCPOA is not renegotiable: American foreign policy expert

February 1, 2021 - 14:54

Noting that “the JCPOA is not renegotiable”, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council says the Iranian missile program cannot be addressed within nuclear negotiations.

“The JCPOA is not renegotiable but it is perfectly appropriate to seek a follow-on agreement that extends its nuclear provisions in return for more sanction’s relief,” Barbara Slavin tells the Tehran Times.

“Missiles should be addressed in a different forum through regional consultations and confidence-building measures that the U.S. can support but probably not lead,” Slavin adds. 

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington will return to its commitments under the Iran nuclear deal only after Iran first return to full compliance. Such a precondition highlights a dispute that is set to become one of the Biden administration’s most formidable challenges.

Iran says it is the U.S. that quit the nuclear deal unilaterally and imposed sweeping sanctions against Iran and naturally the party that has left the agreement must first return to its obligation.

Mahmoud Vaezi, the Iranian president's chief of staff, said on Friday that Iran has never withdrawn from the nuclear deal so that it would be the first to return to its obligations.

“We held negotiations once and the issue of the JCPOA has been closed. Our stance on the JCPOA was clear and we have maintained our past approach,” Vaezi told IRNA when asked about Blinken’s remarks that Iran should first return to the deal. 
Vaezi stressed, “As President Rouhani has repeatedly said, only when the U.S. returns to its obligations, Iran will fulfill its commitments.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has demanded that it is Washington that must first comply with the agreement because it withdrew from the agreement that is endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

“Why on earth should Iran—a country that stood firm & defeated 4 years of a brutal US economic terrorism imposed in violation of JCPOA & UNSC Resolution—show goodwill gesture first? It was the U.S. that broke the deal—for no reason. It must remedy its wrong; then Iran will respond,” Zarif wrote on his Twitter account on January 26.

In May 2019, exactly one year after Donald Trump officially withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA and imposed the harshest ever sanctions on Iran in line with his “maximum pressure” campaign, the Islamic Republic announced that its “strategic patience” is over and started to gradually remove cap its nuclear activities at bi-monthly intervals. At the time Iran announced if the JCPOA parties honor their commitments, Iran will immediately reverse its decisions.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is tasked to put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for termination of economic and financial sanctions.

Iran has said reducing its nuclear commitments is in accordance with paragraph 36 of the JCPOA. 

(Paragraph 36 provided a mechanism to resolve disputes and allows one side, under certain circumstances, to stop complying with the deal if the other side is out of compliance.)

Iranian officials also insist that Tehran won’t accept any renegotiation over the existing deal or discuss its defensive missile program.

The U.S. administration pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018, claiming it failed to curtail Iran’s missile program and regional influence.

When asked if isn't it more reasonable if the side that breached the deal to take the first step, the American foreign policy expert assures that “it should not be difficult to sequence mutual steps back into compliance.”

“The Biden administration, which has already lifted the so-called Muslim ban, could take some other steps to show goodwill such as dropping formal opposition to a $5 billion loan to Iran from the IMF for COVID-19 relief and reinstating waivers for Iran to sell oil to certain countries,” Slavin says.

Despite President Biden’s decision to reverse Trump’s policies like “Muslim ban” — a Trump administration-imposed ban on allowing people from seven Muslim-majority countries to travel to the United States-, it seems the new president has inherited a formidable toolkit when it comes to Iran. 

However, Slavin calls for freedom of dual nationals and pausing any further steps out of the JCPOA by Tehran.

“The U.S. and Iran can work out a schedule for more sanctions lifting and for Iran's return to compliance on nuclear steps,” Salvin remarks.

Some hawkish politicians in the U.S. are encouraging Biden to continue Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy as leverage to win more concessions from Iran.  

Nevertheless, the American expert emphasizes that “Biden opposed the Trump policy and will seek a return to diplomacy with Iran.”  

Slavin is of the opinion that the presence of so many JCPOA negotiators in the Biden administration is a good sign that shows Biden won’t follow Trump’s mistakes.

“Rob Malley, an extremely experienced diplomat with a wide knowledge of the Middle East (West Asia), will be in charge of implementing U.S. policy toward Iran. He is a familiar face for Iranian diplomats. Wendy Sherman, who was our chief negotiator, is deputy secretary of state, and Jake Sullivan, another important figure in U.S.-Iran relations, is national security adviser.”

However, it will be simplistic to underestimate attempts by certain regimes like Saudi Arabia and Israel which are trying hard to hinder reviving the JCPOA.

While some Western countries like France talk about the need to include their regional allies like Saudi Arabia in possible nuclear talks, Salvin predicts that “Saudi Arabia will face a much more skeptical audience in Washington than it did under Donald Trump and we've already seen the Biden administration pause arms sales to both Saudi and the UAE.”

“While U.S. relations with Israel remain strong, Bibi Netanyahu is very unpopular among Democrats and will not be able to dictate policy as he did under Trump,” she points out. 

Regarding the initiative of nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) in West Asia, the director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council notes that “Israel has never acknowledged its possession of nuclear weapons.”

Slavin argues if Iran modifies its rhetoric, “it might be possible to convince Israel to come clean on its program. That would be the first step toward a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East (West Asia).”

Israel is widely believed to possess more than 200 nuclear warheads. It has also refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

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