The window of opportunity for the US to fully comply with the Iran nuclear deal (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA]) may have been extended somewhat, but the impasse is not over yet. Following talks between Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA), and Dr Ali-Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), in Tehran on February 21, certain protocols were agreed upon. These conform to both the Iranian parliament’s bill as well as Tehran’s compliance with the IAEA Safeguard Agreement.
On December 1, 2020, Iran’s parliament had passed a bill demanding complete lifting of US sanctions by February 21. Should the US fail to do so, Tehran would end voluntary compliance with the Additional Protocols. Since the US has so far refused to lift sanctions, insisting instead that Iran must first come into full compliance—a ludicrous demand—the impasse remains. The February 21 Tehran-IAEA arrangement restricts access to IAEA inspectors for snap inspections but Iran has allowed camera recordings of its nuclear facilities to continue. Footage would be stored for three months.
The timeframe is meant to allow for a diplomatic solution to emerge. Should an agreement be arrived at, Tehran would make that footage available to the IAEA. US failure to comply with its obligations would result in Iran destroying the footage.
In recent days, the US has taken token steps to remove some restrictions. Iranian diplomats at the UN, for instance, can now travel in New York within a 25-mile radius. Washington also sent a letter about UN sanctions the Donald Trump regime claimed were still in place were no longer applicable. The UN Security Council had already rejected these sanctions last September stating quite clearly that the US had no authority to do so since it was no longer a party to the JCPOA. Iran demands practical steps from the US. That means lifting all the sanctions that were annulled after the JCPOA was signed and confirmed by UN Security Council resolution 2231 on July 20, 2015. And once Tehran confirms that these have been removed in a practical manner and it can sell oil and receive funds into its bank account, Iran will immediately comply.
The European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Chief Joseph Borrell has proposed to host a meeting of the current JCPOA members plus the US for informal discussions. Iran said it was ‘considering’ the proposal at which the US would participate only as a ‘guest’ but had not made a final decision. On February 28, however, Iran’s foreign ministry announced it would not participate in the EU-proposed conference because the US has failed to remove the illegal sanctions.
“Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries, which was proposed by the EU foreign policy chief,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on February 28, according to media reports.
Let us consider why there is an impasse. The JCPOA was signed on July 15, 2015 between Iran on one side and six powers—the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China—on the other. In return for accepting a limit of 3.67% on uranium enrichment for a period of 10 years, the US and its allies would lift all sanctions against Iran. Further, that Iran’s frozen assets in banks abroad would be released immediately. Iran also accepted two additional restrictions. First, it voluntarily accepted snap inspections of its facilities by IAEA inspectors in what are referred to as ‘Additional Protocols’. Second, Iran accepted a ban on import of weapons for five years that expired last October.
Iran, however, did not sign the agreement with its eyes closed or by taking the others’ word. In the JCPOA, there are two articles—26 and 36—that provide Tehran with remedial mechanisms should the other parties fail to fulfill their obligations. This is what Iran has done since Donald Trump walked out of the deal in May 2018 and reimposed a raft of sanctions.
Despite such clear violations of the JCPOA, Tehran still waited for a full year for the Europeans to take steps to ameliorate the damage caused to Iran. The Europeans issued soothing statements but took no practical steps. It was at this stage that Iran started to scale back its adherence to the JCPOA—again completely within its legal rights—to safeguard its interests. It started enriching uranium beyond the 3.67% limit but only to 5%. Since then, it has increased enrichment to 20%. Further, as of February 23, it has also limited access to IAEA inspectors that it had voluntarily agreed to under the JCPOA.
There is little doubt that US sanctions have badly affected Iran’s economy. The pandemic has made matters worse and caused immense suffering to the Iranian people. Trump’s so-called ‘maximum pressure’ was designed to bring Iran to its knees. It failed. Iran does not give in to blackmail. While US President Joe Biden has admitted the failure of Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy, he continues to pursue the same failed policy. He demands that Iran must first return to full compliance before the US would consider lifting sanctions.
Iran has rejected this completely. It was the US that walked away from the deal and violated the agreement it had signed. Washington must take the first steps and comply with its legally binding obligations. Iran has not violated the agreement. And it has repeatedly stated that its steps are reversible once the US and the Europeans come into full compliance.
The US also continues to make other ludicrous demands: Iran must limit its missile capabilities or stop its political and diplomatic outreach in the region. Such demands are beneath contempt. Iran has never committed aggression against any country in more than 200 years. It has every right to defend itself as best as possible. Further, Iran’s political or diplomatic outreach is none of America’s or anyone else’s business.
It is the US that is threatening Iran with its naval armada prowling the seas as well as maintaining hundreds of military bases around Iran’s borders. Further, the US continues to supply weapons worth tens of billions of dollars to such oppressive regimes as those in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Zionist Israel. These regimes pose an existential threat to Iran.
Coming weeks will show how this whole episode will play out but it has proved yet again that the US and its European allies are completely untrustworthy. They do not honour even the agreements they sign so why should Iran accept their word?