Nuclear deal discussions put focus on Iran’s behaviour

There appears to be greater awareness in Western capitals of the inherent flaws of the Iran nuclear deal.
Sunday 29/04/2018
US President Donald Trump (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron walk down Cross Hall in Washington, on April 24. (AFP)
Thorny path. US President Donald Trump (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron walk down Cross Hall in Washington, on April 24. (AFP)

It remains unclear whether the US administration will pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Recent talks between US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel offer little indication of what lies ahead.

The May 12 deadline for the multilateral deal is looming. That is the date by which Trump must decide whether to keep the agreement or effectively scrap it. What’s clear is Trump’s opposition to the basic structure of the agreement. It was negotiated on the watch of his predecessor Barack Obama. During Macron’s visit to Washington, Trump described it as “a deal with decayed foundations… a bad deal. It’s falling down.”

Aside from the hyperbole, there does appear to be greater awareness in Western capitals of the inherent flaws of the deal.

Discussions in Washington and elsewhere reflect growing European dismay at the agreement’s inability to constrain Tehran. This has become a more pointed issue in the years since the agreement was signed. It is because of Tehran’s unconstrained behaviour in the region.

The agreement provides no way to prevent Iran from pursuing a ballistic missile programme. Nor does it penalise Iran’s support to extremist proxies across the Middle East, from Syria to Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere. As a result, Tehran has been emboldened. It has felt free to pursue an aggressively expansionist agenda in the region. The agenda kept pace with Iran’s budgetary resources, as economic sanctions wound down and the regime in Tehran felt more able to spend.

Furthermore, the so-called “sunset” provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) end restrictions on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium by 2025. Experts say that Iran can, even now, enrich enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon within a year. Once restrictions are lifted, it can do this in a matter of weeks. The danger is obviously compounded by Iran’s unrestricted ballistic missile programme development.

Allowing Iran a nuclear-free hand will endanger international peace and security and set off a regional nuclear proliferation spiral.

France and other European countries want to address these concerns by imposing additional restrictions on Iran as part of a revised version of the 2015 deal. Alternatively, these issues could be addressed in supplemental agreements to the deal.

It’s hard, however, to square such aspirations with Iran’s bellicose and uncompromising response to any suggestion that further negotiations may be in order. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has already said: “We will not add anything to the deal or remove anything from it, even one sentence.”

Zarif’s boss, President Hassan Rohani, has issued his own chilling ultimatum. “Mr Trump thinks that it is just hot air when we say that if the nuclear deal falls apart, we will restart (our nuclear programme) at a new speed which will be shocking to them. His threats are empty,” Rohani declared.

To underline his defiance and in an obvious attempt to avoid discussing the issues at hand, Rohani engaged in personal attacks on the US president. “You have no expertise in politics, nor in law, nor in international accords,” Rohani said of his American counterpart.

This kind of discourse plays well with the crowd back home. It also allows Iranian leaders to stifle attempts to have a serious discussion about legitimate concerns. These include the regime’s bellicose attitude, the ballistic missile programme and hostile regional agenda.

In contrast to this unrelenting posture, there was the French president’s categorical statement to the US Congress. Iran, Macron said, “shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now. Not in 5 years. Not in 10 years. Never.”

Macron did not explain the basis for his confidence that Iran will “never” possess a nuclear weapon.

Today, there is only one absolute certainty. In the months and years ahead, the international community will have to brace itself for further tensions with Iran until it sees the error of its ways and drops its expansionist and belligerent policies.