Withdrawal of JCPOA may relegate USA from its influential position in world politics -M. Mohiuddin Mortuza

International, Issue

On 8 May, 2018 the US president Mr. Donald Trump announced that he is exiting the nuclear deal named JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), that was signed among Iran and the P5+1 (the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany) in 2015 and will repose economic sanctions on Iran as well as the companies around the world that do business with the country. The accord came after years of tension over Iran’s alleged efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. Though Iran insisted that its nuclear programme was entirely peaceful, the international community never believed that. Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow international inspectors to visit its nuclear facilities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions which literally was making Iran’s economy crippled. The accord was believed to be effective enough to prevent Iran’s attempts to develop nuclear weapon by the UN security council. The accord compelled Iran to reduce her uranium stockpile by 98% to 300 kg for 15 years, installing least efficient centrifuges no more than 5,060 at its nuclear facility at Natanz till 2026, redesigning the heavy- water nuclear facility at Arak, granting permission to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors to visit any facility if that seemed suspicious to them. The countries signing 2015 nuclear deal still believe that these conditions will prevent Iran from producing “Weapon grade” uranium except the US along with two of its most valuable allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Defining Iran as “Sponsor of terror” Mr. Trump raised question about the effectiveness of the accord. In his statement he made it clear that the problem of the Iranian nuclear accord was not, primarily, about nuclear weapons. It was that the deal legitimized and normalized Iran’s government, reopening it to the world economy with oil revenue that financed its adventures in Syria and Yemen, it’s missile development program and it’s support towards the groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. Mr. Trump repeatedly addressed the accord as “disaster” and he expressed his credence to dismantle it. This step of Mr. Trump has brought comfort to the USA’s two of the allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. Thse three allies are long opposing the Iranian revolutionary government. When the world was waiting to welcome the new year 2018, an anti government protest took place in Iran demanding fall of the government where, not an wonder, these three allies gave immediate statements supporting the protesters. Some Iranian sources even claimed that this is the USA who groomed and financed the protest.Though it hasn’t been proved as a fact, but activities of these three allies support that the Iranian claim didn’t come out of the blue. Saudi Arabia’s crowned prince Muhammad Bin Salman, popularly known as MBS, has reportedly referred to the Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the “New Hitler” and stated that if Iran makes a nuclear bomb, his country will do it’s best to reach the same destination in March while giving an interview to the US broadcasting media CBS. Despite this statement, it is unclear that if Saudi opposes the deal only because of Iran’s possibility of getting nuclear bomb or if there is any other issues. After breaking out of the war in Yemen, Iran has thrown a new challenge to the Saudi led coalition forces there and the proxy war between Iran and Saudi in the Middle Eastern countries seems to be heavier for Saudi Arabia. These may also be the reasons behind Saudi’s opposition against such an accord that helps Iran’s economy to flourish again. When it comes to Israel, the case becomes more complex.Helping the Assad regime to stand against the rebel groups and the so called “Islamic State” (IS) terrorists; Iran has deployed a significant number of its forces at various posts of Syria including Syria – Israel border. Israel takes this as a potential threat to its existence and to break Iran’s morale it attacked at some Iranian positions in Syria which, the Israeli sources claimed killed not less than 25 Iranian personnel including officers.An expected reaction from Tehran wouldhave increased the possibility of a new aspect of calamity. At that moment Russian intervention in this matter, making Iran agreed to withdraw its personnel from Syria – Israel border and Israel’s consent to not to inturde at Syria’s air, mitigated the intensity of the issue. But obviously Israel wasn’t satisfied with this short term solution. Hampering Iran’s adventure in Syria (and most probably in some other countries like Yemen and Iraq too) will require to prevent Iran to be open to the world for trade and get liquid cash to fund it’s power. A possible securus way is to leave Iran in front of sanctions again. But understanding that wouldn’t come so easily Israel started to convince the world powers that Iran is violating the JCPOA accord and financing its nuclear weapon program in disguise of a peaceful project. Pursuing this goal, Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu revealed some cache files on Iran’s nuclear program in April which were smuggled by Mossad in this January to Tel Aviv. Mr. Netanyahu, referring the documents as secret, claimed that “Iran lied” and took advantage of the accord to finance its nuclear project. “Everything Netanyahu said from the name of that (Iranian nuclear development) plan down to the fine details was described in the IAEA’s final report about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, so there was nothing new about the scope of that program.” saying this Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation expert and scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International studies, rejected the claims of Mr. Netanyahu. EU countries have reassured Mr. Netanyahu that the presentation of Israeli prime minister has proved it again the necessity of keeping the deal alive. French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said Israeli information proved the need to maintain the checks and UN inspections established by the deal. The review mechanisms are among the “most comprehensive and robust in the history of nuclear non-proliferation,” she said. Despite this, Mr. Donald Trump used the reference of Israeli prime minister to justify his decision regarding the deal. While exiting from the accord helps to breathe a sigh of relief to its two Middle Eastern allies, it costs USA huge. Moments after Mr. Trump delivered his statement where he made it sound that Iran is the player that is trying to misuse the “incomplete” deal, received a polite diplomatic rebuke from the USA’s closest three European allies Britain, France and Germany. Rejecting his logic, it is obvious that the three powers are convinced that Iran is not violating the accord; rather it’s the USA that did it. These leading European countries have expressed their strong opinions to abide by the accord. When this is the case, a question comes before the world. Why these countries are compromising even with the alliance of the USA on Iran nuclear deal?
Germany alone accounts for about 60% of the investments made by European states in Iran. According to the Federation of German Industries the exports of Germany rose from $2.6 billion in 2016 to $3.5 billion in 2017. In March, 2016 Siemens group has come to an agreement with Iranian petroleum company Mapna for installing petroleum refining infrastructures. Besides the amount of money that German investors are investing in Iran is increasing constantly. When it comes about France, the economic relation between these two countries has grown to about 235% in 2017 from 2016. French automobile producing company Renault has increased its facility’s capacity to produce 300,000 automobiles which is installed in Iran. Russia, another leading European country, has well economic relation with Iran since many years. Iran is building its second nuclear plant by Russia’s help. In June 2016, after lifting the economic sanctions, Russian giant Gazprom signed a deal with Iran to work jointly in Farzad gas field of Iran. Besides, in March, 2018 Russian company RZD International and Iran Railways signed a contract of €1.2 billion for the electrification of the 495 km route from Garmsar on the Tehran. The global oil market will face a short term higher price if other countries of the accord also call off the deal. But the US can’t have much effect on oil price if it exits from the accord alone. The US sanctions will likely only remove 300,000 to 500,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil off the market, compared with the 1 million to 1.5 million barrels the Obama administration curtailed. Moreover, some countries like China and India won’t stop oil shipment. While the world consumes about 100 million barrels a day, only US sanction will have very low effect on price. But any further joint economic sanction on Iran will, therefore, have a tremendous effect on Global economy which in turn will cost the Europe highly. In such situation, the European countries will likely to have stronger economic relation with Iran rather than imposing sanctions on it. Now if the turn comes for Asia, the reaction of the US allies or other influential countries may be the same as of the European Union. More importantly, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit is knocking at the door and interestingly Iran has been invited by China. The invitation to Iran’s president Mr. Hassan Rouhani has been sent at a crucial time after the USA’s withdrawal from the accord. The SCO is known for its anti-American views and Iran already is an observer state of SCO. Now it won’t be a surprise if China offers Iran a permanent membership to the organisation and if this happens, the US move on the accord will be crankier. India, another influential country of south Asia, will face a dilemma to take a side. If India sides with the US, it’ll prevent India to use Iran’s Chabahar port that it decided to use to increase pressure on Pakistan. In that case, this port can be even used by China and Pakistan. Besides, India is the third largest importer of unrefined oil. Imposing sanction on Iran will have a worse effect on India’s oil market. The European Union, Russia and Asian powers like China and India thus have such interest related to Iran that they may not side with the US and it’s getting obvious as more days are passing. Iran will not face a significant problem by only the US sanction. On the other hand, this exit of the USA from the accord, if no other country of the accord stands next to it, may leave the USA alone in the field for a long period of time, which over time probably will raise the question about the unerringness of the withdrawal move.

The writer studies at the University of Dhaka.

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