It’s Iran, not the U.S. that should set preconditions

December 22, 2020 - 20:53

TEHRAN – During the recent high-level meeting of the parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it was underlined that the United States should not set any preconditions for its return to the 2015 nuclear deal. But some participants missed the point and forgot that the U.S. is not in a position to put forward preconditions for its return.

In an effort to discuss the latest developments surrounding the Iran nuclear deal, the foreign ministers of Iran, China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom, as well as the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, held a virtual meeting on Monday during which they exchanged views on a range of issues related to the JCPOA such as preserving and fully implementing the deal, reiterating the need to continue the cooperation between Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog, and more importantly the prospect of a U.S. return to the nuclear deal.

“Ministers agreed to continue dialogue to ensure full JCPOA implementation by all sides. Ministers acknowledged the prospect of a return of the US to the JCPOA and underlined their readiness to positively address this in a joint effort,” the foreign ministers said in a joint statement after the meeting.

The meeting could not be held at a more sensitive time. On one hand, the Iranian Parliament has recently passed a law that, if implemented, would effectively set the stage for Iran to completely withdraw from the JCPOA. On the other hand, Europeans have dangerously failed to keep up their end of the bargain. However, they started to call for a new deal with Iran after Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election in November.

These issues all were discussed in the Monday meeting which was reportedly tense and long. And after the meeting, each of the participants made remarks that were reflective of the atmosphere of the meeting. German Foreign Minister Mass said that Iran should avoid taking any tactical steps that would make it hard for Biden to reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to quit the deal, according to Reuters.

“To make possible a rapprochement with the U.S. under Biden, there should be no further tactical manoeuvers of the kind we've seen too many of in the recent past,” he told reporters. “This chance, this last window of opportunity, must not be wasted.”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also echoed the same warning while putting more emphasis on preventing Iran from implementing its nuclear law.

“Today I met with the JCPOA participants, where I made it absolutely clear Iran must not implement the recently announced expansions to its nuclear program. To do so would undermine the opportunities for progress we hope to see in 2021,” Raab said in a tweet shortly after the JCPOA ministerial meeting.

Since November, the European signatories to the JCPOA – France, Germany and the UK (E3) – have been putting forward preconditions for the revival of the nuclear deal. While other parties to the deal – namely Russia and China as well as Iran - said that the U.S. should not set preconditions for its return to the deal, the Europeans hinted that expanding the JCPOA would be a precondition to the U.S. return to the JCPOA.

Mass has made it clear that a return to the previous deal would no longer be enough and that there is a need to reach what Maas called “nuclear agreement plus,” which would include Iran’s defensive missiles and its regional influence.

“A return to the previous agreement will not suffice anyway. There will have to be a kind of ‘nuclear agreement plus,’ which is also in our interest. We have clear expectations of Iran: no nuclear weapons, but also no ballistic missile program that threatens the entire region. Iran also needs to play a different role in the region,” the chief German diplomat said in a recent interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel. He added, “We need this agreement precisely because we distrust Iran. I have already coordinated with my French and British counterparts on this.”

However, the Europeans apparently agreed to drop their preconditions during the Monday meeting, according to the Guardian.

The British newspaper reported that the EU foreign ministers have agreed not to set fresh preconditions on a revival of the Iran nuclear deal, believing Tehran and Washington should be able to come back into full compliance with the agreement without at this stage needing to accept to extend or strengthen it.

“In what may prove the most significant development, it is understood that the three European powers are content for any discussions on extending and strengthening the deal to wait,” the Guardian reported.

It also quoted one senior EU diplomat as saying that “everyone around the table agreed on the need to preserve the deal and to convince the U.S. that it is much better to go back to the deal the way it is and without preconditions and without saying yes we want to add something more.”

The Europeans try to imply that the U.S. needs to be convinced into dropping its preconditions on the JCPOA, a move that is based on the presupposition that the U.S. is in a position to set preconditions in the first place. But this is not true. Because if one JCPOA party is to set preconditions, it is Iran – not the U.S.

The U.S. can no longer set preconditions for its return to the JCPOA after it illegally re-imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran and acted in bad faith by falsely triggering the snapback mechanism of the JCPOA.

In fact, Iran has every right to set the lifting of all sanctions imposed by Trump as a precondition for the U.S. return to the JCPOA. Because if the U.S. returns to the JCPOA without lifting sanctions, this will only make things worse for Iran as the U.S. will once again enjoy the right to trigger the snapback process while keeping the sanctions pressure in place. If this happens, the U.S. remaining outside the JCPOA would be far less harmful to Iran.

The Europeans may be working to exactly make this happen. They might have well dropped their unlawful preconditions to imply that Iran also should not set preconditions for the U.S.'s return to the JCPOA. The three European signatories have not abandoned their call for addressing Iran’s missile and its regional activity, according to Laurence Norman, a foreign policy correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

Norman said in a Twitter thread that the sunset issue and the need to discuss further issues in the future were raised during the ministerial meeting. “But addressing broader issues is not a pre-condition to return to deal,” the correspondent wrote.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who “was aggressive” and “overdid it a bit” during the Monday meeting according to Norman, reminded the Europeans of their failure to honor their obligations under the JCPOA.

In a Twitter thread after the meeting, Zarif implied that Iran will not fall into the trap of without-preconditions-return to the JCPOA. He said the “E3 share the blame with U.S. for irreparable harm to Iranians,” because “Iran-EU 2014-2019 trade data proves E3/EU have gravely breached their JCPOA obligations.”

In what appeared to be a precondition for the U.S. return, Zarif said Iran will reverse its nuclear measures only after the U.S. and the E3 perform their duties.

“ALL must return to effective JCPOA compliance. Iran will rapidly reverse remedial measures in response to US unlawful withdrawal—and blatant E3 breaches—when US/E3 perform their duties. The Iranian people MUST feel the effects of sanctions lifting,” the Iranian foreign minister wrote.

Over the past few years, the E3 have refrained from implementing their obligations under the JCPOA under the pretext of the U.S. sanctions but now that the Biden administrations is willing to change course on Iran, they started to make things more difficult by raising issues that are not part of the JCPOA.