By Mohammad Mazhari

Iran’s goals cannot be met by revival of the 2015 pact: researcher

December 4, 2021 - 23:26

TEHRAN - A senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore says the 2015 nuclear deal won’t bring economic benefits for Iran.

“Since the JCPOA in its best times could not do that, Iran’s objectives cannot be met by even the full revival of the 2015 pact,” Asif Shuja tells the Tehran Times.

The remaining parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are trying to revive the pact which was annulled by U.S. former president Donald Trump.

However, the European parties (Britain, France, and Germany) said on Friday that the new government in Iran is proposing unacceptable changes to the existing draft agreement, even as it is proceeding apace with its nuclear program.

Given the Western rigidity when it comes to giving a guarantee the U.S. will not abandon the deal again, political observers have warned after five days of meetings in Vienna, there is little possibility of a successful negotiation. The talks were suspended for consultations with governments and may resume next week.

 “Clearly a new agreement is required, which could be built on the JCPOA by adding the additional mechanism to implement the Iranian demand of verification of lifting of sanctions,” Shuja notes.

 “Call it a revised JCPOA, or give it a new name, but it is obvious that any such revision would also involve reciprocal additional demands by the other parties.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you assess the resumption of Vienna talks? Are you optimistic about the results?
A: The fact that the Vienna talks have been resumed after the assumption of office by a new president in Iran, illustrates Iran’s commitments to international agreements despite domestic differences. This is especially so as the new President Ebrahim Raisi, as well as his higher officials, are widely known to hold different views on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed by the administration of the former President Hassan Rouhani. This is quite in contrast to the U.S. position, where a sitting President, Donald Trump, annulled an international commitment agreed by his predecessor purely on partisan lines. This makes Iran look better than the U.S. on the turf of international diplomacy.  

The start of Iran-U.S. engagement, even though through indirect talks, should already be considered as a success of the EU’s coordination efforts to revive the JCPOA. When the stalemate is broken and all parties are involved in talks, there is no reason not to be optimistic. However, in terms of the definition of success, one must be realistic, including in terms of the benefits of the revival of the JCPOA. This is because even in JCPOA’s best of times, when its primary sponsor Barack Obama was the president, Iran could not receive the economic benefits promised by the deal despite Iran’s fulfillment of its nuclear commitments. Importantly, the U.S. had also fulfilled its legal commitments of that deal, but it was the failure of its commitment to the “spirit” of the deal that created bottlenecks in the success of the JCPOA’s implementation. That is the most critical part of the success of any deal.

Q: What solutions are on the table? Reviving fully the 2015 pact or a new agreement? What about less for less?
A: The new administration of President Ebrahim Raisi appears to have no objections in terming the current Vienna Talks as the continuation of the ones started on 6th April 2021 by his predecessor Hassan Rouhani. Effectively, it would be the 7th round, in which the new administration is understood to have submitted its own proposals. So far, we neither have the full details of these proposals, nor the full reactions of other parties. However, Iran’s position in this matter is well known, through the oft-repeated statements of Ayatollah Khamenei. Iran’s redline is the “verification of sanctions removal”. Now that Iran has come out with a detailed document on how that could be achieved, a more meaningful engagement could be expected amongst the parties involved.  
It is notable that the redline that Ayatollah Khamenei has drawn concerns the commitments of the other side, which is the “verification of sanctions removal.” There doesn’t appear to be as rigid a stand in terms of Iran’s own reciprocal commitments. In effect, Iran’s expectations from the agreement are clear, and that is to get the real economic benefits through the lifting of sanctions. Since the JCPOA in its best times could not do that, Iran’s objectives cannot be met by even the full revival of the 2015 pact. Clearly, a new agreement is required, which could be built on the JCPOA by adding the additional mechanism to implement the Iranian demand of verification of lifting of sanctions. Call it a revised JCPOA, or give it a new name, but it is obvious that any such revision would also involve reciprocal additional demands by the other parties. Effectively, what appears to be the solution here is “more for more” rather than “less for less.”

Q: Do you think the “less for less” initiative can help to advance the talks in the future while some critics say this is a fruitless effort that only prolongs the negotiations?
A: It may be reiterated that when the full implementation of the JCPOA did not translate into economic benefits to Iran, it would be impractical to imagine that any less will do. In other words, if Iran slows down its nuclear enrichment even by a nanosecond, then also the objective of the JCPOA is served for other parties, even if in nano terms – Iran’s nuclear advancement is slowed down, even if in nano terms! However, for the JCPOA’s benefits to reach Iran, what is required is more than what is enshrined in that document, not any less. Lifting of all sanctions, plus a positive enabler’s role played by the U.S., either by adhering to the spirit of the JCPOA or by adhering to the new terms added to its revised version. Only then those, ever wary of being caught in the Iran-U.S. crossfire, would have enough assurance to do business with Iran in a carefree manner.

Q: How can Iran and the U.S. reach a common language? Is there any ground in this regard?
A: The core of the problem is the enmity between Iran and the U.S., and the reason behind that is the decision of the Islamic Republic of Iran not to bow down to any outside power. When the U.S. stops endeavoring on subduing Iran, overtly or covertly, the two will start understanding each other. But one can’t clap with one hand. Iran also has responsibilities in this regard. For instance, when the Biden administration is not lifting the U.S. sanctions, causing the failure of the JCPOA’s revival, the officials of Iran’s foreign ministry release statements mentioning that the “window of opportunity” is closing. One can ask, what does the word “opportunity” mean here? If the U.S. lifts sanctions, how does it become an opportunity for the U.S., rather than Iran? What is obvious is that lifting of sanctions becomes an “opportunity” for the U.S. only if it stops Iran from making a nuclear bomb, because that is the stated objective of the U.S. Such language simply strengthens the common fear associated with the Iranian nuclear program. Similar is the case of Iranian usage of the term ‘fatwa’ to support its case internationally. These efforts create more doubts than reassurance.

The JCPOA could not translate into economic benefits because apart from the explicit mention of legal commitments, it presupposed the U.S. acting as an enabler to help the Iranian economy break its shackles caused by years of economic sanctions. However, the role of such an enabler can only be played by someone who is from a friendly country. Despite the nuclear deal, Iran and the U.S. remained enemies as the Obama administration did not annul the two U.S. Executive Orders 12170 (1979) and 12957 (1995), dealing with the ‘National Emergency with respect to Iran’. It is the review of these provisions that will solve the current Iran-U.S. impasse; not the review of JCPOA or UNSC Resolution 2231 (2015). But for that to happen, a fundamental shift in the Iran-U.S. relationship is needed, which is contingent on first and foremost U.S.’ will to recognize Iran as a regional power. Now that the U.S. is receding from the Middle East (West Asia), there is a high possibility for the change of the four-decade policy of the U.S. towards Iran. Iran may look for novel ways to grab that opportunity.

Q: How may U.S. domestic competitions ruin any chance of reaching a good nuclear pact?
A: This is an illusion. In its national interest, the U.S. citizens of all hues think alike. Just look at Afghanistan as an example. The agreement that was signed by a Republican was implemented by a Democrat. Similar is the case with Iran, the sanctions that were imposed by Republican Trump are continued by Democrat Biden. In fact, the U.S. policy in the Middle East (West Asia), including on Iran, has been the same for decades, regardless of a Republican or Democrat president sitting in the Oval Office.
However, this policy is bound to change now as the U.S. national interest is no more dependent on the Middle East (West Asia) region the way it was before the U.S. became independent in oil. This is the new reality that should be understood by Iran as well – the U.S. is no more after its oil, as it did during 1953. Clearly, the U.S. is no less or more saint now, but its priorities in the Middle East (West Asia) have changed, and it can entertain only those policies which offer fewer conflicting engagements in the Middle East (West Asia). A deal with Iran will have bipartisan support in the U.S., as that is good for the U.S. national interest under the new realities. Some obstacles that the Biden administration may face could be linked to the domestic power struggle between the U.S. Congress and the President’s office – between the Legislature and the Executive – but a way could be found to overcome that as it was successfully done during the 2015 nuclear deal by President Obama.

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