Following the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Biden Administration could provoke another crisis by reviving the flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Vladimir Putin’s threat of using nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict is a timely reminder of the terrifying power held by nuclear-armed states. Iran vows to annihilate Israel and attacks regional states through proxies. If the regime owned nuclear weapons, could the Middle East survive? Even worse, Iran’s mullahs might try to realise their version of apocalyptic Shia theology that prophesises world domination through war.
A leaked revised nuclear deal would legitimise nuclear weapons for Iran and provide future trade advantages to signatories, whose appeasement endangers Iranian dissidents, and the frontline regional states denied a seat at the negotiating table.
Having allowed Iran to string out talks until nuclear breakout (time taken to construct a nuclear device) was counted in weeks, the US scrambled to produce a deal that delayed breakout to about six months.
The Iran nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) lifts various US, UN and other sanctions against Iran in exchange for restraints on its nuclear project. Reportedly, the amended pact outlines early release of Western hostages and the phased lifting of sanctions, starting with suspension of uranium enrichment above five per cent. Although many restrictions on nuclear weapons production are due to expire in two and a half years, Iran will keep, rather than destroy, its advanced centrifuges. Within years, the Islamic Republic could build a nuclear arsenal with its newfound funds. The agreement does not authorise inspections without warning and disregards Iran’s regional destabilisation and human rights violations.
Among many breaches of the original deal, Iran restricted the activities of inspectors, contravened the cap on heavy water used to produce nuclear weapons and developed nuclear-capable ICBMs. The regime’s self-proclaimed peaceful domestic nuclear program was unmasked in a secret archive airlifted from Tehran by Israel in January 2018. The documents revealed a long-term clandestine, sophisticated nuclear weapons programme and exposed Iran as a bad-faith negotiator. Assumptions that the theocracy would liberalise were rapidly debunked. Ignoring the welfare of its people, Iran used the windfall of sanctions-lifted funds to spread its messianic Shia revolution throughout the region and claim hegemony over the Islamic world. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Force and their extraterritorial Quds Force bankrolled proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen. Iran-backed forces challenged political leadership in Iraq. In Lebanon, the government was infiltrated by Hezbollah, but the group’s terror tentacles extended to South America, Europe and elsewhere.
Yemen’s Houthis targetted Saudi Arabia and the UAE with Iranian-made missiles and drones, despite Biden’s goodwill gesture in February 2021 that revoked their terrorist listing by Trump. Biden’s concession infuriated regional Arabs, who fear Iran’s supremacist Shiite ideology, radical proxies and attacks due to the Abraham Accords peace agreement.
Appeasement of Iran’s belligerence has characterised both original and current iterations of the JCPOA. From the start of talks in Vienna last April, the US capitulated, as if in desperation, to Iran’s demands for indirect discussions, depending on messages ferried by European envoys of the P5+1 (the US, Russia, China, UK, France plus Germany). Biden also turned a blind eye to China’s sanctions-busting imports of Iranian crude oil and allowed South Korea to settle Iran’s unpaid UN fees with frozen assets in South Korean banks. Recently, the US offered sanction waivers permitting Russian, European and Chinese companies to expand Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station, Tehran Research Reactor and Arak heavy water plant for domestic purposes. Iran dismissed the offer as inadequate and demanded lifting of all sanctions, in keeping with its maximalist position.
During the ten months of stalled negotiations, Iran adopted a strategy of extortion. Uranium enrichment was increased to 60 per cent, a small technical step from weapons-grade 90 per cent. This violation of the JCPOA’s restriction to 3.67 per cent did not attract censure by the negotiating parties. Iran-backed militias repeatedly attacked US military bases in Iraq, struck commercial vessels in the Gulf and imprisoned foreign nationals to be used as bargaining chips.
Apart from sidelining Iran’s proxy paramilitaries, the JCPOA disregarded human rights abuses, which President Biden had made a foremost priority. Specifically, he called for freeing of political prisoners, such as Nasrin Sotoudeh, who defended women incarcerated for removing their hijabs in public. Europe is also pledged to uphold human rights in the Treaty on European Union and in EU bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights.
Current Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, is himself accused of responsibility for thousands of extrajudicial executions.
Nevertheless, Western negotiating parties were deaf to Iranian dissidents who pleaded for maximum sanctions pressure against a police state that is cracking down with brutal force on growing protests.
Staying silent on the regime’s human rights abuses could well be associated with lucrative contracts pending lifting of sanctions, in one of the last, sizable, untapped markets.
The EU expects to vastly increase trade with Iran, which stood at US $8 billion in 2016. Iran has a contract with Europe’s Airbus to purchase 100 planes. France has a joint car manufacturing venture, transport projects and a massive gas contract on hold. Germany, with long-standing economic ties to Iran in transfer of technology and industrial development, is keen to expand trade that suffered severely due to US sanctions. Their economic cooperation includes a joint chamber of commerce with 1,800 members. UK companies have also identified opportunities in Iran’s oil and gas industries, infrastructure, healthcare, retail and financial services.
Both China and Russia have close relationships with Iran. The 25-year China-Iran Trade and Strategic Cooperation Agreement promises huge investment in oil, gas and transport. China will benefit from energy purchase discounts and priority in development projects, but progress depends on the outcome of the Vienna talks. Russia and Iran have strong strategic ties in Syria and a robust economic partnership, with prospective completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, agreements to build more nuclear reactors, enormous oil-for-goods deals and military equipment contracts.
US capitulation during the talks would not have been lost on Russia, China and Iran, an axis conforming to President Putin’s vision for a new reshaped multipolar world order without US dominance.
In all, a revived JCPOA is a foolish bargain by short-sighted, hypocritical Western powers recklessly treading a well-worn path of appeasement with a dangerous, unreliable partner.
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