Following the growing tensions between Iran and the United States, Iran has announced that it will be enriching its uranium beyond the limit set in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with other world powers. This decision comes in response to the withdrawal of the U.S. from the nuclear accord in May 2018, and their re-imposed sanctions on Iran including on their oil and banking sectors.
The remaining members of the 2015 JCPOA deal – China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. – have felt the increasing pressures of being caught in the middle of this conflict concerning the two nations. The decision to support President Trump’s sanctions may increase the risk of the development of nuclear weapons in Iran. However, the world powers may also risk facing their own sanctions imposed by the U.S. if they pursue and save the deal in spite of these escalating conflicts.
A statement from the U.K. Foreign Office emphasized that while the U.K. remained “fully committed to the deal,” the country still demands that “Iran must immediately stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its obligations.” Similarly, Germany advises that Iran must “stop and reverse” all activities that may be seen as a violation of the JCPOA.
However, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif insists that Iran’s actions are in accordance with the deal as they are exercising their right to respond to the U.S. withdrawal and the remaining signatories’ inability to fulfill their obligations. In a Twitter statement released by Zarif, he posts a message alongside Paragraph 36 of the JCPOA, stating that: “[Iran has] NOT violated the JCPOA. Para 36 of the accord illustrates why: We triggered [and] exhausted para 36 after US withdrawal. We gave E3+2 a few weeks while reserving our right. We finally took action after 60 weeks. As soon as E3 abide by their obligations, we’ll reverse.” By “E3” he is referring to Germany, Britain, and France, while the “+2” refers to nations including Russia and China.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has emphasized that Iran had warned of its decision, recognising that it is a “natural result” of the U.S. maximum pressure policies. Yet Ryabkov also urges all involved to “avoid escalation” and that the situation “shouldn’t be overdramatized.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. remains firm on its sanctions and will continue to pursue policies of maximum pressure until Iran reverses its decision. In a statement released by the White House, U.S. leaders expressed that they “must restore the longstanding nonproliferation standard of no enrichment for Iran,” and that “The regime must end its nuclear ambitions and its malign behaviour.”
While concerns regarding Iran’s desire to exceed enrichment beyond the 3.67 percent agreed upon in the JCPOA are understandable, there also seems to be the presence of an exaggerated fear. So far there have been no legitimate justifications for believing that the levels of enrichment will reach weapons-grade levels. Additionally, Iran’s methods have remained diplomatic which has been primarily demonstrated by the nation allowing for a 60 week period in which the remaining signatories were given time to address the economic failings of the country exacerbated by the U.S. sanctions. Iran also announced its plan to reduce its commitments to the JCPOA 60 days before pursuing any action.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister believes that the “European countries have failed to uphold their commitments and [that] they are also responsible” but also adding that “The doors of diplomacy are open but what matters are new initiatives which are required.” Furthermore, he mentions that the new payment mechanism, INSTEX, which is designed to circumvent U.S. sanctions “was not going to work unless European countries use it to buy Iranian oil.”
The U.S. has a history of using its influence and power to pressure other countries into conforming with their decisions. A landmark nuclear accord that was finalized after two years of intense negotiations to alleviate fears of nuclear proliferation within Iran, while also lifting its previous sanctions, resulted in a continued maximum pressure campaign by the U.S. and a lack of continued dialogue—the opposite of the desire result.
If there is any hope in resolving the ever-increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and the growing concerns regarding Iran’s increased uranium enrichment, then the remaining signatories of JCPOA must either increase efforts in supporting Iran’s economy or encourage diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran. They cannot, however, allow themselves to be backed into a corner by the U.S. as an entire nation’s economy is under threat. Iran is open to communicating and the European nations must be willing to meet the Iranian leaders in the middle in spite of U.S. pressures.