Trump has never been happy and supportive of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the Iran Nuclear Deal. Trump administration has always complained about the deal and has finally threatened to kill the deal by a US pull-out if the flaws are not dealt with. The leading point of dissent is the expiration date ranging between 10-15 years associated with the main clauses of the deal. The restrictions have come to be known as the ‘sunset clauses’. These form the heart of the crisis as it is not the expiration dates will arrive too soon but the very need to have an expiration date in place. In addition to that President Trump is also not pleased with the growing Iranian support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and a glaring absence of the steps to check Iranian ballistic missile program. Thus, it is evident that Trump is trying to crack a foolproof agreement with Iran which will span and address all the US concerns. However, it is impossible to make an ideal deal which will tackle all the Iranian missteps in International Diplomacy.
JCPOA may lack considerable clauses to cap the Iranian adventure in Middle-East yet it is a comprehensive agreement which has put suitable pressure on Iran to keep its nuclear program under check by a tough inspections regime which has made Iranian compliance possible. Also, it is better than the other options currently on the shelf i.e. to allow Iranian regime which had neared the threshold enrichment of uranium to qualify it to make weapons to continue with its nuclear missions or a military option against the Islamic Republic. Thus, killing the deal will amount to resorting to suicide to avoid death in future.
In reality, many concerns are exaggerated as there are some provisions which continue way beyond 2030 like the monitoring the sites of centrifuge production which will end in 2035, surveillance over the Uranium mines will go even further than 2040 while there are other clauses which will never end viz. The Iranian Republic will always need to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency about its plan of building a new nuclear facility and is thus under international obligations to inform the world six months in advance of introducing nuclear material in the country. Also, the Additional Protocol to allow inspections of unknown facilities on short-notice is slated to be signed by Iran in 2023.
JCPOA had been actually based on the fundamental that Iran was not given the same treatment as other signatories of NPT who are allowed to enrich Uranium as it was involved in the undisclosed development of nuclear facilities without the knowledge of IAEA. It was also undertaking R&D activities for developing nukes. Thus, the Deal was urgent to put Iran on an invasive and exceptional level of inspections to develop confidence in eyes of IAEA and assure the international community of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. Iranian nuclear sites which have 48 reactors and a nuclear complex which is the largest in any non-nuclear weapon state are now under constant 24-hour remote vigil. Over the years of the agreement, IAEA has now become assured of the presence of no undisclosed facility in Iran and thus there is no reason for it not to be considered at par with other NPT signatories.
Many opponents of the deal in Trump administration have not softened their stance maintaining that a US withdrawal from the deal will lead to its collapse and thus the US will be solely held responsible for the same on an international platform. Iran, in turn, will definitely resume its enrichment program and the international community which already stands divided on the fate of the deal may not be able to isolate Iran categorically and collectively. However, the nearing May deadline and President Trump’s reservations are a major cause of concern as they have given shape to an artificial crisis which in real practice has years to discuss and resolve.
European compulsions in revising the contents of the deal to address the concerns of Trump administration about missiles and inspections are valid. However, the European negotiators have pushed an agreement with the administration to twitch the language of the deal which stresses on the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile capacity of Iran and thus make way for the international inspectors to be granted access to any facility in Iran which they consider important. The other concerns about the regional behaviour of Iran demand a long-term strategy.
However, the real obstacle lies in getting the extension of sunset clauses as Trump administration seeks to put in place an arrangement which will permanently prevent the Iranian regime from spinning more than 5060 centrifuges and stocking more than 300 kg of low enriched uranium both the clauses which are forbidden under the current deal but only till 2026 and 2031 respectively. There is always a possibility to work out a long-term agreement with Iran which will extend the time span of the above clauses and be offering some other concessions to the Iranian regime like cooperation in its civil nuclear program but it will take time to be worked out to perfection. The May deadline given by Trump administration has created an unwanted hurry and crisis over a situation which can be resolved peacefully and over time. There is no immediate need and urgency to work out a new deal just two years down the implementation of the previous one when all the parties are fully complying with all the clauses. A workable outcome can be a joint statement by the West which will spell a need to deal with the so-called sunset clauses and a possible follow-on arrangement which will be given in coming years.
In the course of events, the Western powers have not cared to include China and Russia from the negotiations both of which are also signatories to the deal although they may stand in favour of extension of the sunset clauses due to their own personal interests as no one wants to see a nuclear-armed Iran- a proposition which can give way to a deadly arms race in the Middle East especially as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has recently declared that Saudi Arabia will definitely develop a nuclear weapon if Iran does so.
It is widely possible that any joint statement issued presently maybe met with tough opposition from Iran which has honoured all the clauses of the previous deal and will remain committed to it if there are no apparent changes or violations to it as it will not want to be blamed for the collapse of the agreement which can push it towards tough sanctions and isolation. There are, however, a great possibility that it agrees to follow-on arrangement if it is offered additional concessions and incentives.
Trump Administration internal moves
The discussions with European powers are going hand-in-hand with the Trump administration’s internal push in the US Congress to pass a new ruling which will legalise the reinstate sanctions if Iran violates any part of the deal especially the sunset clauses. A low bar of only 51 votes has been imposed by the Senate to be able to block the Presidential move. Democrats have come to oppose the same as it is a clear violation of JCPOA. Instead is Iran violates any part of the deal and resorts to building a nuke by enriching Uranium to 20 percent capacity or constructs any secret nuclear infrastructure, then the sanctions will come into effect by default. Such a ruling will act as a check. Also, for the clauses which have a time span stricter sanctions can be imposed if Iran resorts to quick and enhanced enrichment after the expiration of the restrictions. Latter can take the form of a potential bill but it should definitely come with a higher bar to be passed.
The Way Forward
The most pressing concern at the moment is to clear the air around the Deal as it has left all parties baffled. There is an apparent struggle on all fronts to save the Deal and also address the concerns which have been raised by President Trump. Any solution should thus come with a certainty that there will a permanent end to the crisis and drama which happens as any deadline of waiver nears revival. Trump administration can consider completely scraping all the recurring waiver requirements. This will significantly lower the vulnerability of the Deal. Business deals are conducive to the success of JCPOA and thus be allowed to stand ground like the Boeing and Airbus deal with Iran Air unless latter is involved in any kind of intimidation to US interests.
The biggest hurdle is the President himself as he has a staunch bitterness towards the basic JCPOA and has a general inclination of overlooking which are essential for the success of such intricate international agreements. All the signatories thus primarily look for certainty clause which is clearly shorter than the much-hyped sunset clause of the Deal. If former is not addressed all efforts will fall apart and all will be headed for a joint blame for the collapse of the Deal.