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The JCPOA and One-Year Experiences

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mohammad Khajouei
Senior Middle East Analyst

One year has passed since Iran and the P5+1 group reached an agreement on Tehran's nuclear program known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); an agreement, which put an end to more than one decade of tension between the two sides over Iran’s nuclear program and turned into an important model for peaceful resolution of a difference.

Now, where are we standing one year later? Has the process of the implementation of the JCPOA fared according to early expectations? And what opportunities and challenges are lying ahead of us? What follows represents a brief effort to answer these questions:

1. Since the signing of the JCPOA, Iran and the West have started on a new and unprecedented path. It seems that achievement of the agreement over a complicated issue through about two years of continuous and intense negotiations has alerted both sides to the importance of maintaining this diplomatic breakthrough. Therefore, regardless of details, their overall effort in the past year has been focused on helping the agreement go ahead. Following the conclusion of the nuclear agreement, Iran’s relations with the world have been back on normal track and there has been motivation and seriousness for the revival of relations with Iran on the opposite side. During the past year, Iran has been hosting various political, trade and cultural delegations from different countries, especially countries which have been a direct partner to the nuclear talks. Officials from Iran’s state-run and private sectors have also traveled to scores of countries in the past year. The main agenda of all these trips has been one issue: to rebuild and develop Iran’s relations with other countries. Therefore, it would not be exaggeration if this issue is considered as the most important achievement of the JCPOA. The process of normalization of Iran’s relations with the world has already begun.

2. What was said in the first paragraph is not the whole story. The implementation of the JCPOA has gone through two important phases during the past year: the first phase was the implementation of Iran’s commitments with regard to restricting part of its nuclear activities with the second phase being implementation of the other parties’ commitments, the most important and crucial of which was removal of sanctions imposed on Iran.

The first phase has been completed successfully and nobody, even the most pessimistic persons and media, have been able to deny this. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as the main authority verifying implementation of Iran’s commitments as per the JCPOA, has officially substantiated this issue. Of course, this signifies nothing but Iran’s seriousness in going on with the implementation of the nuclear deal.

The question, however, is whether the second phase of the implementation of the JCPOA has been as successful as its first phase? The answer to this question is both easy and impossible. Nobody can have any doubt that removal of sanctions has already taken place according to the executive directives in the JCPOA and on paper. However, this is very much different from what has actually happened in reality. In some fields, including lifting sanctions on Iran’s oil sales, a good practical step has been taken so far, but one major problem and knot still remains unaddressed, which is the issue of cooperation between Iranian banks and their international counterparts. As long as this problem has not been resolved, obstacles on the way of Iran’s trade relations with the rest of the world cannot be removed. This is true because all kinds of money transfer both in small-scale and large-scale trade transactions are carried out through banks. Despite official announcement about the removal of anti-Iran sanctions, important and major Western banks have not been willing to normalize their relations with Iran during the past year; as if a telephone line has been established, but when one side calls the other side, it does not answer. The main reason behind this situation is continuation of concerns about transacting with Iran on the part of those banks. During the sanctions period, many Western banks were punished and forced to pay heavy fines by the U.S. administration for having contacts with Iran. Today, they are still worried that those fines will be repeated. The root causes of these concerns are, firstly, reversibility of sanctions and, secondly and most importantly, existence of non-nuclear sanctions. Many banks are worried that after opening their doors to Iranian companies and banks, they would come under the inclusion of such sanctions. As a result, despite a flurry of consultations, no practical and serious measure has been taken so far to do away with such worries.

This, however, is not the only problem. Some developments, which unraveled during the past year on the sidelines of the JCPOA, sent an unpleasant message. Developments like seizing USD two billion of Iran’s assets in the United States under imaginary excuses, or changing the United States’ visa law, or even the recent measure by the U.S. lawmakers to prevent sale of Boeing aircraft to Iran create a negative psychological atmosphere though they are not directly related to the JCPOA or have not been taken by U.S. administration. As a result, if similar steps are taken, it is possible that Iran would take retaliatory measures and this would make the JCPOA more vulnerable.

The allegation about violation of the JCPOA by Iran through missile tests is also a major fallacy, which has been recently expressed by several international figures and organizations, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and NATO. This comes against the fact that the Islamic Republic has on many occasions announced that its missile program is solely meant for peaceful purposes and has not been designed to carry nuclear warheads. Therefore, it does not violate the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, nor is in any way related to the JCPOA.

Such developments, however, will increase the pessimism in Iran about any form of long-term relations with the West.

3. One year has passed since the conclusion of the nuclear deal and despite all ups and downs, there has been no sign to show that parties to this agreement are trying to make it fail or to break it up. However, this situation may not last forever. It seems that developments taking place in the past year have somehow caused both Iranians and Western sides to distance from their early optimism and face the challenges and opportunities resulting from the nuclear agreement in a real way. Therefore, despite the willingness of parties to the nuclear agreement to maintain it, some incidents that take place on the sidelines of the JCPOA from time to time have high destructive power and if similar developments take place, they can lead to divergence among the parties to the nuclear deal. Meanwhile, the destructive role played by opponents of the nuclear deal, from Israel and conservative Arab countries to the rightwing groups in the West, especially in the United States, must not be underestimated. Therefore, maintaining communication channels open and dispelling the existing misunderstandings on the way of the implementation of the JCPOA by Iran and the opposite side could serve as an antidote to thwart such negative moves.

One year full of hope and fear about the JCPOA is now behind us. It seems that these two feelings will continue to stay with supporters of the nuclear deal and its signatory countries in the foreseeable future.

Key WordsIran, P5+1, Nuclear Program, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Implementation, Commitments, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Oil Sales, Sanctions, Banks, Companies, Boeing, Ban Ki-moon, Angela Merkel, NATO, Missile Tests, Khajouei

More By Mohammad Khajouei:

*Five Points about Putting Iran on the US List of Sponsors of Terrorism: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Five-Points-about-Putting-Iran-on-the-US-List-of-Sponsors-of-Terrorism.htm

*Saudi Arabia’s Honeymoon with US Is Over: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Saudi-Arabia-s-Honeymoon-with-US-Is-Over.htm

*Federalism in Syria: Cons and Pros: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Federalism-in-Syria-Cons-and-Pros.htm

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