Democrats renege on JCPOA

July 9, 2021 - 20:58

TEHRAN – In the latest act of reneging on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a senior Democrat senator has highlighted the difference between now and 2015, when the nuclear deal was reached, implying that the deal should be revisited. 

Negotiations over reviving the nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have hit a diplomatic impasse after the U.S. upped the ante by refusing to give even what was envisaged in the original deal: sanctions relief.

Ever since the end of the sixth round of the Vienna nuclear talks more than two weeks ago, the U.S. and its European allies, namely France, Germany and the UK - collectively known as the E3 – have been urging Iran to make “tough decisions” to revive the JCPOA, as if it was Iran that pulled out of the deal in the first place. 

The U.S. envoy to the Vienna talks went so far as to threaten to walk out of the talks if Iran insisted on its rights under the nuclear deal. “We wouldn't be going back to Vienna if we thought that it's not possible to reach a deal. I don't think that this window is going to be open forever. At some point, we'll have to conclude that this is not succeeding. But we're not there yet,” Rob Malley told NPR in a recent interview. 

He also made it clear that the Biden administration wouldn’t lift all the sanctions imposed by its predecessor. “We're not going to lift all of the sanctions that the Trump administration imposed,” Malley asserted. 

The remarks came after the negotiating partners concluded the sixth round of talks in Vienna without any significant progress. In fact, the sixth round was a step backward because the negotiating partners failed to make any progress on the remaining issues while in the previous rounds, they have hailed the progress made and even voiced hope of a final agreement in few days. 

But this hope evaporated after the sixth round due to U.S. intransigence. The U.S., having rejected Iranian demands regarding sanctions relief, moved to blame Iran for the setback and joined forces with the E3 to ramp up diplomatic pressure on Iran in a bid to force it into giving more concessions.

To this end, the U.S. and French foreign ministers called on Iran to make “tough decisions” to revive the deal. U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken hinted at a U.S. withdrawal from talks with Iran if Tehran continued to increase its nuclear activities. 

These threats even increased after Iran announced the production of a highly advanced nuclear fuel called uranium silicide fuel. 

Iran responded by saying that if a party is to make tough decisions it is the United States and its European allies, not Iran. Because Iran had already made tough decisions after the U.S. unilateral decision to withdraw from the JCPOA in May 2018.

However, instead of returning to its commitments under the tattered nuclear deal, the Biden administration opted for a confrontational policy going against the very promises it made before taking over from the Trump administration. During his election campaign, Biden vowed in no uncertain terms to revive a deal he helped make as vice president under Obama. But after moving into the White House, he backed down on his promise by refusing to return to strict compliance with the JCPOA.

To make things worse, the Biden administration even clung to some of the illegal measures the Trump administration took against Iran. For Example, a UN arms embargo against Iran expired in October 2020 in accordance with the terms of the JCPOA. The Trump administration took a series of measures to get the UN Security Council to extend the arms embargo and when it failed to do so, it resorted to the unilateral tool of issuing an executive order to ensure no arms deals are made with Iran. 

Trump’s gone but the executive order issued by him are still in place, indicating a desire on the part of the Biden administration to keep the executive order in place. During the Vienna talks, the U.S. negotiating team indicated to the European intermediaries that the Biden administration has no intention of annulling the Trump-era executive order. 

This was a major sign of the Biden administration’s dishonesty and lack of credibility. Because the U.S. negotiating team in Vienna is more or less the very same team that negotiated the JCPOA back in 2015 and agreed to lift the arms embargo by October 2020.

U.S. officials, and some other Democrats in Congress and foreign policy circles, have mainly justified the U.S. reneging by saying that circumstances have changed and that there is a need to revise the JCPOA. 

“Today is different than 2015, when these agreements were negotiated,” Senator Ben Cardin, a member of the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations, told AFP, adding, “Circumstances have changed and they require us to respond to where we are today.”

He said the Vienna talks must address the “changed circumstances” since the accord was negotiated.

“There is a strong, almost universal desire by Congress... to go beyond the sunset dates that were included in the JCPOA,” said Cardin, referring to dates in the deal beyond which certain restrictions on Iran's nuclear activity will no longer apply.

Cardin was in Vienna as part of a U.S. congressional delegation for a program that included a briefing from IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi.

Cardin’s remarks may further muddy the waters as they send a message to Iran that the U.S. is not trustable partner to make a deal with. Furthermore, if Democrats renege on a deal of their own making, then how they can convince Iran to sign a new deal with them while they publicly call for jettisoning the original deal.

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