In response to the detrimental consequences of Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy, 196 members of the Iranian Parliament voted in support of the immediacy of a bill which if enacted, will force the government to exercise further remedial measures regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The current draft bill also envisages that if the other JCPOA participants return to implementation of their sanctions lifting commitments, the government shall report the details of their actions and propose the reciprocal measures to be taken by Iran.
Some three years ago, the Trump administration, overwhelmed by the influence of antithetical elements within domestic political system of the US and few foreign JCPOA-detractors, who occasionally disguise their real political intentions as bogus non-proliferation concerns, pursued the ill-advised “fix it or nix it” policy and attempted to derail the accord. Trump withdrew the US from the JCPOA and introduced the ominous policy of “maximum pressure” and performed it in the form of illegal economic sanctions, the brunt of which was and still is born mainly by ordinary people of Iran.
We still remember the presidential memorandum he signed in May 2018 to both withdraw from the Deal and to institute the “highest level” of economic sanctions on Iran. It is important to bear in mind that the US's decision to withdraw from the deal and violate its commitments therein was unwarranted; because all of the quarterly reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) up to May 2018, and for a year after, clearly stated that Iran was in full compliance with the terms underlined under the JCPOA.
More than two and half years ago, on February 2018, when the Trump initially fueled the “fix it or nix it” policy towards the JCPOA, I argued that: “Trump is turning a blind eye to achievements of constructive multilateral diplomacy. Yet disregarding the amount of energy and effort that all JCPOA parties exhausted to achieve the deal, and attempting to alter its terms will unsettle the balance of the deal and lead to its demise”. A fact that should not be neglected is that the JCPOA constitutes a unique solution, through triumph of diplomacy for peaceful resolution of international disputes, to the otherwise legal standoff that had no clear basis for resolution.
Reacting to the relentless violation of the terms of the deal by the United States, Iran decided to bring the issue to the Joint Commission of the JCPOA. Three months after Trump’s decision, on July 2018, upon the request of Iran, the Joint Commission of the JCPOA met at ministerial level to discuss the way forward to ensure the continued implementation of the nuclear deal in all its aspects and review outstanding issues arising from the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the agreement followed by the reimposition of sanctions lifted under the JCPOA.
In that meeting of the Joint Commission, the participants affirmed their commitment regarding 11 objectives for them to be realized in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere. The attempt was aimed at restoring, at least in part, Iran’s very profound concerns about the other parties’ failure to deliver on the economic benefits to Iran. For instance, promoting wider economic and sectoral relations with Iran, preserving effective financial channels with Iran, facilitating Iran’s oil and gas exports, and encouraging investments in Iran were a few among those 11 objectives.
Nevertheless, the extraterritorial dimensions of the US sanctions, which are in contradiction with international law, has prevented its European allies from implementing their commitments. In July 2018, the former EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini confirmed at a press conference that the United States has refused a request by France, Germany, the UK and the EU to exempt entities doing legitimate business with Iran from subsequent US-imposed penalties. Shortly after Mogherini’s press conference, the French, German and UK foreign ministers joined her and urged countries not party to the JCPOA, tacitly referring to the US, “to refrain from taking any actions that impede the remaining parties’ ability to fully perform their commitments.”
From May 2018 up to May 2019, Iran continued the full implementation of its commitments. Relatedly, the UN Secretary General, regretted the US decision while he welcomed, the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran continues the implementation of its nuclear-related commitments, as verified by the IAEA, in the face of considerable challenges brought about by the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA and its subsequent decisions to reimpose all its national sanctions that had been lifted or waived pursuant to the Plan.
One year on from the persistent violations of the deal by the US since its withdrawal in 2018, the US went above and beyond to do anything it can to prevent other participants from implementing their commitments in an effective and meaningful manner. This left Iran with no option other than resorting to its rights under the JCPOA to exercise remedial measures.
Iran reasoned that the sanction lifting part of the JCPOA and their effects constitute the essential basis of Iran’s consent to be bound by the deal and the violations of the US rendered those parts of the deal void and effectively futile. Hence, Iran introduced an incremental policy of partially ceasing implementation of its commitments under the JCPOA. These remedial measures were performed in five steps but did not include any measures to reduce the cooperation with the IAEA in the areas of monitoring and verification. It also did not affect the provisional application of the Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement by Iran.
Having accumulated myriad rounds of new sanctions against different sectors of Iran’s economy, on February 2020, the US Secretary of State Pompeo announced yet another plan with the hope to sabotage the JCPOA. The two-faceted plan was to use “every diplomatic option available” to extend the arms trade authorization mechanism, which was due to terminate in October 2020, and if failed, try to trigger the Snap Back mechanism to restore all terminated UN Security Council Resolutions. The plan was based on the distorted argument that the US is still a “JCPOA participant”, which is fallacy in every possible way.
Both attempts of the US failed. On both instances, 13 out of 15 members of the UN Security Council opposed the US’s claims and sent letters to the president of the Council officially declaring that the US does not have the legal stand for its claim. The United States continued on imposing sanction on Iran to a level that the US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said on October 2020 that the US has little opportunity left to impose new sanctions against Iran, as there are already so many of them.
The path that the US chose vis-à-vis the JCPOA, started with implementation, altered -apparently caused by lack of inter-agency understanding between the State Department and the Treasury- to lackluster implementation, renouncement, anticipatory repudiation and ended in full violation of commitments. The US also adopted a fundamentally misguided policy loaded with coercion towards Iran. Iran’s record, on the other hand, has been the continued full implementation confirmed by the IAEA even for one year after the US withdrawal, resorting to dispute resolution mechanism and exercising calibrated remedial measures.
The Iranian officials have been consistent in their statements expressing readiness to go back to full implementation, if this full implementation is reciprocated with full implementation from the other side and Iran’s legitimate expectations from the deal are met. Furthermore, the past three years showed, once again, that Iran will not make concessions under coercion and pressure. The US withdrawal was not an innocent unilateral act. It entailed devastating consequences for Iran and Iran has every right and reason to ask serious guarantees to prevent this from happening again. The decision remains for the US administration to correct the path, rescind the failed “maximum pressure” policy, compensate the immense damages caused and return to adherence to its commitments under the deal to avoid aggravation of the situation.