By M.A. Saki

If JCPOA is revived, it will help end conflicts in West Asia: American expert

February 1, 2022 - 10:5

TEHRAN – Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, believes if the 2015 nuclear deal is revitalized, it will serve as a motivation to help “end other conflicts” in West Asia.

Negotiations are underway in Vienna to restore the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“I certainly hope the JCPOA can be restored as it was a huge success for the U.S., Iran, and multilateral diplomacy. If it is revived, that will help encourage other efforts to end conflicts in the Middle East,” Slavin tells the Tehran Times. 

The talks which started in April has reached a critical stage and negotiators from Iran, the U.S., the European trio (Germany, France, and Britain), China and Russia have returned to their capitals for consultations. The European Union’s Enrique Mora, who acts as a coordinator in the Vienna talks, has said now is the time for the sides to take “political decisions”. 

Slavin says, “Realistically, we probably only have until March to get this done. So I hope Iran shows the necessary flexibility to help achieve this.”  

One year after the Trump administration left the nuclear deal and returned the sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under agreement, Tehran started to gradually lift bans on its nuclear activities. Iran also accelerated its nuclear activities after the parliament approved legislation obliging the government to increase the level of enrichment and install advanced centrifuges.

“Pompeo wants to be president and thinks Iran is a winning issue for him.”The parliament said the ratification is intended to lift the illegal sanctions on Iran. After a sabotage attack on the Natanz nuclear site in April 2021, which Israel is considered responsible for, Iran started to enrich uranium to a purity of 60 percent. However, Iran has been insisting that it has no intention to build nuclear weapons and that it considers weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear arms, as haram (religiously banned).

On whether the Vienna talks are promising, Slavin says she does not use the word “promising” but she feels “a greater urgency on the part of the negotiators to get to an agreement soon.” 

Iran has been saying that it has put forward initiatives to advance the talks and been complaining that the European troika and the U.S. have failed to put forward proposals.

Slavin says she has not seen “the specifics” but adds, “My impression is that there are still some important gaps on the nature of ‘guarantees’ that Iran will see prolonged sanctions relief and the schedule for Iran to scale back nuclear advances that violate the JCPOA.” 

Iran is seeking guarantees that the U.S. would not leave the nuclear deal again. However, the current U.S. administration says it cannot decide for the next president and this is one of the main stumbling blocks.

Slavin says there are “variety of creative solutions” that can allay Iran’s concerns. 

“I think there are a variety of creative solutions, including so-called ‘letters of comfort from the U.S. Treasury Department to foreign banks and importers of Iranian oil.”

She adds, “We have also seen a number of political statements – from President Biden and Secretary Blinken among others – that the U.S. will remain faithful to the JCPOA as long as Iran does. Ultimately, however, it is Iran’s decision whether it is worth it to get access to some $100 billion in frozen hard currency and be able to sell oil freely for at least several years at rather high prices.” 

Some analysts say the U.S. should show more flexibility in returning to the JCPOA because as it was the first party that quit the nuclear agreement in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and slapped the harshest sanctions in history against Iran. 

Slavin is of the opinion that Joe Biden’s government should have done more flexibility last year, especially as Iran was struggling with the Coronavirus pandemic, but now Iran should act more flexibly.

“I wish the Biden administration had done more last year in the way of goodwill gestures, particularly regarding Covid vaccines. At present, however, I think Iran should show more flexibility,” notes Slavin, who is also a lecturer in international affairs at George Washington University. 

 “Restoring JCPOA is best defense against hawks”

Some Iran hawks, like former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Congresspersons, are urging the Biden administration to cease the talks.

When asked doesn’t think that such persons are inherently seeking a war against Iran, Slavin answers, “Pompeo wants to be president and thinks Iran is a winning issue for him. However, the policies he pursued have led us to the situation we are now in. Also, Americans are in no mood for war with anyone, and Pompeo’s hawkishness puts him out of step even with the Republican Party.”

“Americans are in no mood for a war with anyone and Pompeo’s hawkishness puts him out of step even with the Republican Party.” 

The Iranians were energized when the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015. However, Trump quit the agreement under his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. This led the Iranians, both the people and reformist politicians and activists, to lose their hope. The move also vindicated the conservatives who were saying the U.S. cannot be trusted. Even now that serious efforts are being made to put the JCPOA on the right track some Iran hawks, like senator Ted Cruz, are even threatening that a Republican president will abandon the deal even if it is revived? 

But, Slavin argues, “If we can revive the JCPOA, that will be the best defense against hawks in both countries.” 

Former Israeli prime minister played a key role in provoking Trump to abrogate the nuclear deal. The current establishment in Israel is also against reviving the agreement. Saudi Arabia was also an opponent of the deal. But the Saudi Kingdom has softened its stance. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian has said his country is informing neighbors, especially the Arab states on the southern shores of the Persian Gulf, about the process of the Vienna nuclear talks.

Amir Abdollahian has also announced that Iran and Saudi Arabia can reopen their embassies.

Iran and the UAE are also healing their rifts. Iranian Industry and Trade Minister Reza Fatemi-Amin is going to travel to the UAE and Oman next week. He will be accompanied by a high-ranking trade delegation.

The UAE’s top national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan also visited Tehran for high-level talks in December 2021.

Analysts see Iran's new regional policies, like moves to restore ties with Saudi Arabia, effective in bringing the nuclear deal talks to a result.

Slavin also believes that “talks with Saudi Arabia are helpful but the recent lethal attacks by the Houthis” which she alleges are carried out with “Iranian drones only increased tension and made negotiations in Vienna more difficult.”

She adds it is important for Tehran to “understand that the recent Houthi attacks on the UAE are very damaging to both the Houthis and Iran.”

The senior analyst also says, “There is pressure in Washington now to designate the Houthis as terrorists which would set back chances for a cease-fire as well as humanitarian aid.” 

Iran has been calling for an end to the Yemen conflict. In April 2015, Iran presented a four-point plan to then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in which it suggested an immediate ceasefire and end of all foreign military attacks, humanitarian assistance, a resumption of broad national dialogue, and establishment of an inclusive national unity government.

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