As United States President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office and receive international security briefings, Germany has stated that it is once again open to collaborating with the U.S. to combat Iranian nuclear development. In 2015, Iran and the P5+1 countries (U.S, U.K., Russia, France, China, plus Germany) signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). According to the Arms Control Association, this agreement seeks to regulate nuclear development through limits on uranium stockpiles and enrichment, centrifuge research and use, and a “permanent prohibition of certain weaponization-related activities.” Specifically, the JCPOA focuses on regulations on Iran’s nuclear programming by offering reduced economic regulations for Iran within each signatory country.
Despite initial support, President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018 and reinstated stiff sanctions on Iran, citing their failure to comply as justification for the action. Biden, however, has promised to rejoin the agreement if Iran can commit to the outlined rules, hoping “to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s other destabilizing activities.” Similarly, Iranian officials have said Iran is ready to return if U.S. restrictions are promptly lifted upon Biden’s inauguration. The recently named “E3”—France, Germany, and Britain—are committed to supporting and mediating these efforts and met in Berlin on Monday to discuss how to move forward with expected U.S. assistance; they also considered potential responses if Trump were to mount an attack on Iranian nuclear sites as he has previously discussed.
Advocates of the plan are urging renewed implementation given Iran’s continued breaches. Reports from the United Nations’ watchdog agency found that since the U.S. left the JCPOA, Iran has broken many directives including exceeding its regulated uranium stockpile numbers and hard water limits; stating that it will pursue uranium enrichment up to 4.5 per cent rather than the allowed 3.67 per cent; and, in January 2020, announcing it “would no longer be bound by any operational limitations of the JCPOA.” According to the Iran Press, Iran has undertaken these measures as a response to United States sanctions but assures that all scale-backs can be undone pending compliance by the other JCPOA members.
After the U.S. exit, Iran submitted a non-compliance report to the JCPOA Joint Commission, claiming that the European and American members had failed to uphold their own promises. Despite international concerns surrounding nuclear developments and a similar European report disputing Iran’s violations, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh asserts that all current developments remain peaceful and that Iran has never violated international law or the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency through its actions.
In addition to the push for a renewed commitment to the JCPOA by all members, many in the international community think that the current situation may be the perfect time to create an updated agreement or the JCPOA++. Critics of the original treaty have attacked its failure to address other concerning Iranian behaviour such as the continued expansion of its ballistic missile program or the provision of weapons to militia groups in nearby countries.
Both Saudi Arabia and Israel have taken this position with hopes of curbing growing regional instability and have also demonstrated interest in participating in future negotiations. Although these amendments were discussed at Monday’s meeting between the E3, U.S. advisors have expressed concern about doing too much at once. Some urge the P5+1 to solidify the original JCPOA before making changes, while others think it may be more efficient for Biden to lift the Iranian embargo through an executive order. Either way, time is of the essence. With Iranian elections taking place in June, many are concerned that a victory by a more conservative leader could result in a permanent end to the deal.
The continued development of nuclear technology by global powers is rightfully concerning. The deployment of atomic weapons ensures universal devastation through the destruction of civilian lives and irreversible environmental impacts. Although only used twice before, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs predicts that there are currently around 14,500 nuclear weapons in existence. It is critical for nuclear developments to be discouraged and a collaborative international approach seems the most effective way to do this. If this is to succeed, however, all countries must equally commit to implementation and regulation based on clearly defined rules, rather than scapegoating a few non-Western countries. As Joe Biden enters the White House, there is hope that an efficient and effective agreement may be reached, and that further improvements may be made moving forward.