The Three Fateful Months

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Davoud Hermidas Bavand
Professor of International Relations

A recent trip to the occupied Palestinian territories by the United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to assure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Washington’s will to counter Iran's nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and consultations with European countries to mount pressure on Iran, all prove that the anti-JCPOA lobby has stepped up its activities.

After the previous three-month period given to the US President Donald Trump to decide on Iran's nuclear-related sanctions expired, he had to either continue waiver of those sanctions or impose them again. However, Trump decided to kick the ball into the Congress’ court in order not to take the blame for possible withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA. European countries had told Trump that his disregard for a global agreement, which has been supported by a UN Security Council resolution, would upset them. On the other hand, some Republican members of Congress had announced that they were opposed to the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA. Trump, therefore, hoped that a collective decision made by Congress would provide him with a scapegoat, so that, his election campaign slogans would not seem meaningless, while he would have avoided being marked as a person who does not live up to his promises. In the meantime, the powerful lobby of European officials, especially the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, caused US lawmakers to defer any decision on the JCPOA at that time. After the 60-day period was finished, it was again the US president who had to decide about continued waiver of Iran's nuclear-related sanctions according to the JCPOA. Trump has proven that he is not a predictable person. However, he knows that commitments undertaken by the former US administration are subject to international law, especially with regard to multilateral agreements, and his administration cannot easily ignore international commitments of its predecessor. When it comes to bilateral agreements, this issue is quite different. However, at the present time and under conditions when for the first time, Iran and the United States have engaged in negotiations with each other and those negotiations have led to an international agreement, even a change in the US administration cannot be used as an excuse to easily ignore such a deal. Therefore, Trump has chosen another option, which is emphasis on the need to make amendments to the JCPOA. In doing this, he is trying to cast doubt on the JCPOA by resorting to another issue with regard to which he has the agreement of the European countries; that is, Iran's missile program. However, at the present time, he has sufficed to obstructionism and posing threats in order to prevent Iran from taking advantage of the benefits of the JCPOA, including presence of major foreign companies in the country and normal banking relations with the rest of the world. Trump believes that he can ask the world to mount pressure on Iran to stop developing its missile program by claiming that the Islamic Republic is trying to make intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can carry nuclear warheads. France has to some extent welcomed Trump’s initiative in this regard. It seems that the military team working with Trump, whose members have high posts in the new US administration, is trying to create a link between the JCPOA and Iran's regional presence in countries like Syria, Iraq and Lebanon as well as the country’s missile development program. This goal was also pursued during Tillerson’s recent trip to Israel. France, the UK and Germany have implied at the UN Security Council that they agree to a plan for discussing Iran's missile program. It should be noted that when the United States intended to attack Iraq, it failed to find an issue over which it could forge a global consensus and this is why it highlighted Iraq’s alleged program to develop weapons of mass destruction. After former US president, George W. Bush, called Iraq part of the so-called Axis of Evil, it paved the way for a war of whose consequences Iraq is still suffering, not to mention that Daesh terrorist group was a product of instability in the management system of a post-war Iraq. Iran, on the other hand, has been able to fulfill all its commitments as per the JCPOA and the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed Iran's compliance with the nuclear accord in a number of its reports.

All told, it is clear that the United States has no excuse for leaving the JCPOA. Therefore, before the next three-month period for evaluating Iran's compliance with the JCPOA is over, Trump is trying to pursue his goals through focusing on secondary issues, either independently or in cahoots with its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. An effort made by Nikki Haley, the United States’ ambassador to the UN, to blame Iran for a missile, which was fired by Yemen’s Ansarullah fighters at the Saudi capital, can be assessed along the same lines. Iran has frequently complained to the authoritative body, which has been set up to oversee implementation of the JCPOA, about how the United States has failed to live up to its commitments. Other signatories to the nuclear accord have not rejected Iran's remarks about lack of US compliance with the JCPOA. However, European countries have age-old and deep-rooted trade ties with the United States and, of course, the United States’ presence at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a strong guarantor for security of Europe. Therefore, nobody can accurately predict what position will other five signatories to the JCPOA adopt with regard to the United States. Up to this time, they have been trying to manage Trump’s aggressive behavior one way or another by showing that they somehow agree with Washington with regard to its other claims against Iran.

On the whole, if Iran and Europe act with goodwill and Iran shows some resilience by engaging in effective dialogue with Europe to strip the United States of all excuses, then trade ties will expand between the two sides and removal of sanctions will be sped up. In that case, one can expect that the existing problems would be largely overcome and implementation of the JCPOA would follow its due course. Iran's behavior during the next three months and active consultations between Iran's diplomatic apparatus and European countries, China and Russia, are major factors, which can help change the existing conditions to a certain degree.


More By Davoud Hermidas Bavand:
*The Triple Iranian Islands: Historical and Legal Review :
*Shifting Pressure from Nuclear Case to Human Rights:

*Iran and West’s Double Standards:


*Photo Credit: Rusi

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.