Europe Works to Save the JCPOA
As time winds down to the May 12 deadline U.S. President Donald Trump set for negotiating a “fix” to the nuclear deal with Iran, Washington’s P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) are urging the United States not to violate the agreement and warning Washington of the consequences if the deal collapses.
Behind the scenes, E3–France, Germany, and the United Kingdom–and U.S. officials continue working on a supplemental arrangement dealing with the “flaws” Trump demanded the Europeans address before the May 12 deadline to renew U.S. sanctions waivers.
While considerable progress has been made on issues outside the scope of the deal, including Iran’s ballistic missiles, which are limited by the UN Security Council resolution (2231) endorsing the agreement, and Iran’s activities in the region, gaps remain on how to address the so-called “sunset” provisions, those limits on Iran’s nuclear activities in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that expire over time.
In January, Trump called for the limits that expire to be made permanent in a supplemental agreement. But the E3 have stated that they will not agree to measures that would violate or otherwise recast the terms of the 2015 deal—and trying to coerce Iran into accepting an extension of the time-limited nuclear restrictions would do just that.
Despite the gaps on sunsets, French President Emmanuel Macron raised the prospect of successfully concluding what he called a “new deal” during his state visit to Washington April 24. Macron described his proposal as having four pillars, with one being the JCPOA, and the other three addressing ballistic missiles, regional security, and Iran’s nuclear program after 2025. Macron said at a joint April 24 press conference that he and Trump disagreed on the value of the JCPOA but had a “convergence” on how to move forward. Macron did not reference how the so-called sunset provisions would be addressed.
While Trump assailed the existing agreement during his remarks, he seemed open to considering Macron’s proposal and said it may be possible to do a “new deal with solid foundations.”
Other members of the P5+1 are also weighing-in and are wary of the E3-U.S. process. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters April 17 that the E3 must not “surrender to U.S. demands” and that Moscow expected its European partners to maintain the agreement.
After a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the two countries will “obstruct attempts to sabotage these agreements, which were enshrined in a U.N. Security Council resolution.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to urge Trump to stay in the JCPOA during their April 27 meeting.
Despite Trump’s willingness to consider Macron’s proposal, it is unclear if he will still be open to a supplemental arrangement when the waivers must be renewed two weeks from now, given his hostility toward the agreement. Trump’s unpredictability, which E3 officials are well aware of, has prompted discussions within the EU about options for sustaining the deal even if the United States pulls out. His new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, has openly advocated for U.S. withdrawal from the agreement in the past and he may have the last word.
Failure to reach an agreement with the E3 increases the odds that Trump will let the sanctions waivers lapse May 12, which constitutes a violation of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA.
Despite being in violation of the deal, the United States may stay in the agreement. Testifying to the House Appropriations Committee April 11, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that failing to renew the waivers “doesn’t mean we’re necessarily pulling out of the deal.” —KELSEY DAVENPORT, Director for Nonproliferation Policy
Iran Warns of Consequences If Trump Violates JCPOA
If Trump fails to renew the sanctions waivers May 12, measures from the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 that require states purchasing oil from Iran to make significant reductions in imports every 180 days, or face sanctions, will be reimposed. Given the central role of oil in Iran’s economy, reimposing these measures would have a significant impact. Some of Iran’s top oil purchasers are already reducing oil imports from Iran in anticipation of a reimposition of these sanctions.
Iran is keeping its options open for how to respond if these measures are snapped back. During a visit to New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told CBS April 22, said that Iran will likely resume and accelerate nuclear activities if the United States pulls out of the agreement.
Zarif said if the “benefits of the deal for Iran start to diminish, then there is no reason for Iran to remain in the deal.” The “world cannot ask us to unilaterally and one-sidedly implement a deal that has already been broken,” Zarif said. Without stating specific steps, he said Iran’s options include “resuming at much greater speed our nuclear activities.”
One of those options is resuming higher levels of uranium enrichment, now barred by the accord. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said April 21 that if a decision were made to resume enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235, it would only take Iran four days to begin doing so. Enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235 is short of the 90 percent necessary for weapons but would put Iran closer to that level.
Under the accord, Iran is limited to enrichment levels below 3.67 percent uranium-235, suitable for fueling nuclear power reactors.
500 European Lawmakers Urge the United States to Support the JCPOA
French, German, and British lawmakers joined together to urge the U.S. Congress to do what it can to support the nuclear deal. The 500 lawmakers who signed onto a statement earlier this month said it is in the best interest of the United States and Europe to prevent nuclear proliferation and warned that if the nuclear deal breaks down, it will be “well-nigh impossible” to garner support for sanctions against Iran.
The parliamentarians warned that if the United States abandons the deal without evidence of an Iranian violation, it would mean an end of controls on Iran’s nuclear program, risk conflict in the region, and damage the credibility of diplomacy to achieve peace and security. They urged members of Congress “stand by the coalition we have formed to keep Iran‘s nuclear threat at bay.”
Three parliamentarians behind the statement, Delphine O of France, Omid Nouripour of Germany, and Richard Bacon of the UK, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times April 19 reiterating the main points of the statement. In a powerful piece, the authors pleaded with “the men and women of Congress to play their part in keeping the nuclear deal alive.” The authors noted that the parliamentarians who signed onto the letter “represent the entire political spectrum” but agree on one thing: the Iran deal is a “major achievement of our collective security, in the Middle East and beyond.”
The authors also warned that U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA “would drive a wedge in the trans-Atlantic partnership and drive Europe into a kind of forced marriage with the Russians and Chinese to save at least part of the deal.”
China, Iran Discuss Nuclear Cooperation
China hosted a meeting April 11 to discuss nuclear cooperation with Iran under Annex III of the JCPOA. Representatives from the P5+1 also attended the meeting in Beijing.
Dong Zhihua, deputy director-general of the Department of Arms Control at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Beijing is “committed to the full and continuous implementation of the JCPOA.” He said China and Iran are already working together on civil nuclear cooperation, particularly the Arak reactor, and he hopes the two countries will “broaden the scope of the cooperation.”
As part of the seminar, Iranian officials visited a Chinese third-generation nuclear power reactor. Discussions are reportedly underway for China to build nuclear power plants in Iran. Iran’s Ambassador to China, Ali Asqar Khaji, spoke at the seminar and said Iran and China will expand cooperation on nuclear energy.
Tehran already has contracts with the Russian company Rosatom to supply additional nuclear power units at the Bushehr site.
Pompeo on the Iran Deal
Questions about how CIA Director Mike Pompeo will advise Trump on the nuclear deal with Iran figured heavily into his April 12 confirmation hearing for Secretary of State.
An outspoken critic of the JCPOA during his time in Congress, Pompeo called for the United States to walk away from the nuclear deal in 2016. Pompeo seems to have walked back that position, telling members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) that he supports “fixing” the nuclear deal, and that that would be in the best interest of the United States.
During his testimony, Pompeo refused to answer questions on whether he would advise the president to stay in the deal or pull out if an agreement with the E3 that addresses Trump's criticisms of the JCPOA is not reached.
Pompeo did say he would recommend working with U.S. allies to reach a ‘better’ deal but did not go into details as to how that would be accomplished. Given that Washington is extremely unlikely to gain international support for sanctions reimposed in violation of the current deal, the United States will lack the leverage—and the credibility—to pursue a new agreement.
Pompeo admitted that he has “seen no evidence” that Iran is not in compliance with the deal. He also admitted that Iran was not “racing” to a bomb when the deal was finalized in 2015 and he would not expect Iran to take that route if the deal collapses.
The SFRC voted along party lines to advance Pompeo’s nomination and he is likely to be confirmed. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, viewed the Iran deal as imperfect but advocated for the United States to remain in compliance with the accord.
Building on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
The Arms Control Association’s annual meeting featured a panel on the Iran deal with Laura Holgate, former U.S. Representative to the Vienna Office of the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Elizabeth Rosenberg, Senior Fellow and Director of the Energy, Economics and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
Holgate recapped the accomplishments of the JCPOA in restricting Iran’s nuclear program and said that Tehran irreversibly depleted some of its capabilities under the agreement. She also noted how the permanent provisions of the deal, such as the additional protocol to Iran’s safeguards agreement, serve as a continued bulwark against Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. Holgate said it is premature to begin discussions now about the future of Iran’s nuclear program after certain limits expire and warned that the United States will lose credibility if it pulls out of the deal.
Rosenberg said that while there is space for the Europeans and the United States to do more on ballistic missiles, addressing sunsets is the key sticking point in the E3-U.S. negotiations. She also noted that even if an arrangement is reached, it may not be palatable for Trump.
The audio and video of the discussion is available online or watch below.
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