Shahid M Amin
PRESIDENT Trump announced on May 8, 2018 that USA was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.
Prior to making this decision, he had rejected the earnest pleas of America’s close allies in Europe, apart from many circles in USA. He did exactly what he had promised during his election campaign. He reiterated that the deal was “defective at its core and could not be fixed” i.e. renegotiated. Trump also ordered his officials to immediately begin the process of reimposing sanctions related to the deal. These will target critical parts of Iran’s economy, such as its energy, petrochemical, and financial sectors.
The Iran deal, named as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed in July 2015 in Vienna by USA, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and European Union. Under the agreement, Iran scaled back its uranium enrichment programme and promised not to pursue nuclear weapons. In exchange, international sanctions against Iran were lifted, allowing it to sell its oil and gas world-wide. However, secondary US sanctions against Iran were never lifted. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said all along that Iran has met its nuclear commitments. Its monitors, who regularly inspect Iranian nuclear facilities, have verified that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from JCPOA and imposition of sanctions puts the US in immediate violation of the treaty, which says that the sanctions will remain lifted as long as Iran is complying with its terms.
JCPOA was negotiated mainly by ex-US Secretary of State John Kelly and was hailed as a great achievement by President Obama. But Trump and other Republican Party leaders, apart from Israel, kept condemning the deal, which Trump described last week as “decaying and rotten.” They allege that Iran is secretly continuing its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the deal does not cover Iran’s non-nuclear weapons and missile programmes. The Trump administration has many pro-Israel and anti-Iran officials. Antipathy towards Obama is a part of Trump’s psyche. As expected, Israel has enthusiastically welcomed Trump’s decision. Notably, Saudi Arabia has also supported the US decision, due to its current bitter rivalry with Iran and its apprehension that Iran has nuclear ambitions. Obama reaction was that Trump’s decision could leave the world less safe and even lead to another war in Middle East.
Fortunately, Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal has not killed it. Iran has shown restraint and President Rouhani has declared that Iran remains committed to the deal. The EU remains supportive of the deal, and has said that the US does not have the power to unilaterally scrap the agreement. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said that the group was “determined to preserve” the deal as long as Iran remained compliant. UK, France and Germany remain committed to the treaty. Russia and China have no intention of leaving it. Inspite of these assurances, there is concern that the size and influence of the US economy might induce EU to eventually fall in line.
Iran is now seeking assurances from other signatories of the Treaty that they will remain faithful to its provisions. Accordingly, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif started a mission on May 12 to Beijing, Moscow and Brussels to urge them not to give in to US pressure to halt trade with Iran. An Iranian government statement said that Zarif had been “tasked with the duty of taking the necessary measures to obtain guarantees from remaining parties of JCPOA as well as Iran’s other economic partners.” Iran is seeking assurances that European, Russian and Chinese companies will continue to do business with Iran, even in the face of threats that such companies might have to face US sanctions. The statement warned that Iran was making preparations so that it could resume “industrial scale” uranium enrichment. Such a move would be seen as a breach of the nuclear deal and could put Iran on a collision course with the US and Israel. In a tweet, Foreign Minister ZarIf warned that the outcome of his tour to partner states of the treaty “will determine our response”. Iran has vital stakes in protecting the treaty. For instance, next week, Airbus is expected to announce whether it will continue with a 15 billion pounds deal to supply Iran with 100 commercial airliners. The Iranian national airline has a fleet of aging planes which must be replaced. Iran’s main exports are oil and gas which would be adversely affected by US sanctions. But India and China, the two largest importers of Iranian oil, had been allowed waivers in the years prior to the nuclear deal and might again be exempted. Trump’s decision could also have implications for the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, which has so far probably not taken off due to fear of US sanctions.
Trump’s unilateral withdrawal fom the Iran deal would increase tensions in the Middle East and fuel an arms race. Emboldened by Trump’s deision on the nuclear deal, Israel has become more aggressive. The latet dangerous development is possibility of a military showdown between Israel and Iran inside Syrian territory, and perhaps even beyond. Iran has military forces in Syria, fighting in support of the Assad regime. Last week, Israel made an air attack on Iranian military in Syria, followed by a reported Iranian missile attack on Israeli-held Golan Heights. On May 10, Israel launched “Operation House of Cards” and claimed its warplanes had hit 70 targets across Syria. Israeli Defence Minister Lieberman asked Syria to “get rid of the Iranians” to avoid further such air strikes.
Though Russia, Iran and Assad regime have been acting together in Syria, an aide to President Putin has now been reported as saying that Russia has not agreed to supply sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian regime. This in effect would leave Iranian troops in Syria exposed to future Israeli strikes, and create problems between Russia and Iran. Some reports suggest that the Iranian missile attack on Golan Heights could increase friction in Iran itself between the hard-liners and the moderates led by President Rouhani. Revolutionary Guards could have launched this rocket attack to sabotage nuclear deal and weaken Rouhani.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.