On February 15th, 2021, Iran threatened to block snap International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections if participants in the 2015 nuclear deal fail to sustain their prior obligations. Iran’s statement calls into question whether U.S. President Joe Biden will be successful in reinstating the nuclear deal. Iran’s envoy to the IAEA announced via Twitter that Tehran has just informed the U.N. watchdog of plans to end the agency’s powers of inspection given under the nuclear accord, says Reuters. New legislation enacted in 2020 by Iranian lawmakers gives them the right to limit snap inspections for declared nuclear sites, beginning on February 21st.
The Biden administration hopes to restore U.S. standing in the nuclear deal, after President Trump abandoned the agreement in 2018. The U.S. and several other countries who drafted the accord consented to lift sanctions on Iran in return for an end to their uranium enrichment program. However, when Trump quit the deal and reimposed sanctions, Iran proceeded to violate its end of the deal regarding uranium enrichment and and weapon manufacture. Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh rejects accusations of nuclear arms production by stating a religious decree by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that denounces pursuits of nuclear weaponry. Reuters now reports Iran’s recent ultimatum encouraging Biden to return to the deal, but Washington and Tehran still disagree over how to reinstate it, and which party should act first.
Though Iran insists that the Biden administration take the first step toward compliance, increasing economic pressures may force Tehran to be more flexible, says some Iranian officials to Reuters. According to Al Jazeera, Qatar has been working as a mediator for Iran in efforts to salvage the deal and consult on other diplomatic affairs. Khatibzadeh tells Reuters that “we welcome efforts by friendly countries like Qatar….There have been consultations between Tehran and Doha at various levels.” He also clarifies that Iran and Qatar’s pressure on the IAEA to end inspections is “reversible” if the U.S. “changes its path and honors its obligations.” Communications between participating parties on the nuclear accord and Iran will continue to unfold as the Biden administration furthers its time in office.
Iran and the U.S., along with other players in the nuclear deal, must work to reach a productive solution. A long history of distrust and violence between the U.S. and Iran will only exacerbate the effects of Trump’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018. President Biden admits to the New York Times that it will be “hard” to restore the pact but still argues it is “the best way to achieve some stability in the region.” By returning to the agreement that ensured a halt to nuclear weapon production and lifted sanctions for Iran, U.S.-Iran relations should be able to return to a state of peace rather than turmoil.
The Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is an agreement signed in July of 2015 by Iran and several other countries. Spearheading negotiations with Iran were permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the U.S.), Germany and the European Union. The pact encompassed Iran’s promise to dissolve nuclear programs and submit to IAEA snap inspections in return for billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
While the JCPOA appeared to be a step toward peace for historic enemies U.S. and Iran, President Trump has threatened productive diplomacy. The deal’s smooth start, which included Obama dropping secondary sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, came to a sudden end as Trump put pulled out of the 2015 accord and put back into place significant banking and oil sanctions in 2018. While sanctions relief allowed for slowed inflation and stabilization exchange rates in Iran, a cease to the waivers “has once again cut deeply into a vital source of national revenue,” says the Council on Foreign Relations. Between the U.S.’ retraction from the deal and some recent deadly attacks on notable Iranians, U.S.-Iran relations remain complex and uncertain.
The Council on Foreign Relations reports the opinions of experts who believe that “if all parties adhered to their pledges, the deal almost certainly could have achieved that goal (of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons) for more than a decade.” However, due to complications in the agreement, in 2019, Iran began stockpiling uranium in amounts greater than the JCPOA allows. The U.S.’ targeted murder of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani only inspired the country to bolster both uranium enrichment and centrifuge production.
The fate of the JCPOA and U.S.-Iran relations remains uncertain. Both sides have demands for the other, and compromise will require effective communication. New negotiations could arise in June of 2021, when Iran is set to elect a new president who will likely put incumbent President Rouhani out of office. Rouhani’s approval ratings have slumped as the nuclear deal unravels. A new administration may allow for smoother talks of peace and reinstatement of the nuclear deal.
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