Monday , 18 October 2021

Nuclear Acceleration and Rocket Attacks: The Uncertain Future of the JCPOA

Iranwire – This week US officials said the Islamic Republic of Iran has not yet stated its readiness for the seventh round of indirect talks in Vienna over a potential return to the JCPOA. For Hassan Rouhani’s government, which will formally be dissolved on August 5, the clock is ticking on a final opportunity to save face. Meanwhile, reports from Iran indicate that President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is trying to get his hands on the minutes of the meetings.

Although the talks are being held under the direct supervision of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, a new JCPOA committee was formed in Iran after the June presidential election. Its members include the current parties to the negotiations and the president-elect’s chosen future representatives.

Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly said that were Abbas Araqhchi, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, given the appropriate powers, he could finalize a deal to revive the JCPOA tomorrow. The fact that the incumbent even feels the need to say this is a clear sign that the situation is slipping out of his control.

The sixth round of talks in Vienna concluded in late June. A draft agreement containing five documents was said to have been prepared, with representatives – crucially Iran and the US –  due to return to their respective countries to finalise their approach.

If approved, the text as it stands contains a general introduction, three documents on the lifting of US sanctions and fresh restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, a timetable for implementation, and a signed statement announcing the revival of the JCPOA.

All of this, however, took place before the Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Khomeini took the decision to publicly start producing 20 percent uranium-enriched, one of uses of which is in the production of nuclear weapons.

Iran says it has no such intention of making an atomic bomb, and its purposes in producing the silicide fuel plates are “peaceful”. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed it received notice for Iran regarding this abrupt new project at the Isfahan nuclear facility.

The United States, which has maintained a carefully indifferent stance toward Iran’s nuclear program since the beginning of the Biden presidency, has now said the decision could jeopardize efforts to revive the JCPOA. Russia has called for the Islamic Republic to exercise restraint, while the three European parties to the JCPOA, Germany, Britain and France, have criticized Iran’s decision.

The IAEA is not capable of comprehensively monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities due to reduced access to both the facilities and the content of surveillance cameras. For months now, Iranian facilities have been enriching uranium to 20 to 60 percent, several times more than the level permitted.

Meanwhile the Islamic Republic has continued to sponsor militant groups in Syria and Iraq, with tensions ratcheted up after a rocket attack on the US Ain al-Assad Airbase in Baghdad in March. The Biden administration has twice conducted military offensives against the interests of Iran-backed militias since taking office in January. The US called the two operations “warnings” to Iran, which implied more could take place in future.

There is now little sign that an agreement to revive the JCPOA is imminent. Unofficial reports also indicate that European parties to the JCPOA are preparing to their own set of responses – likely fresh EU sanctions – if Iran continues to violate the original terms of the deal.

This dangerous situation, and the prolongation of unsatisfactory talks, creates the conditions for sudden changes of variables beyond the will of the respective parties. The Islamic Republic of Iran is engulfed in crises, from sanctions to blackouts to water shortagesstrikes and unrest, and needs to see the JCPOA revived far more than the United States does.