On 14 July the P5+1 powers (US, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany) and Iran agreed on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concerning the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program. Iran reaffirmed that it under no circumstances will ever seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons.
The JCPOA specifies how Iran’s nuclear program will be reduced and constrained under the next 10-15 years in terms of number of centrifuges, stockpile of enriched uranium and advanced nuclear research. As a result Iran’s breakout time for producing a nuclear weapon will increase from the current two months to one year.
In return the international community will lift most of the economic sanctions against Iran. The arms embargo will remain in place for a number of years. However, the sanctions relief will not start immediately.
The JCPOA includes an implementation plan which states that the adoption date of the agreement is 90 days after its endorsement by the UN Security Council.
The Security Council endorsed the JCPOA unanimously on July 20.
The next crucial step is the review by the US Congress where there is strong opposition to the deal. The lifting of sanctions is also dependent on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifying that Iran is taking the first steps in implementing the nuclear-related measures.
Overall the agreement has been welcomed as the only realistic diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program. A complete closing down of all Iranian nuclear facilities and a halt to its enrichment of uranium – as Israel and Arab countries in region who feel threatened by Iran demanded – was never a realistic option. The military option would only have delayed an Iranian bomb by a few years.
The JCPOA will significantly reduce Iran’s nuclear capacity and the risk of Iran producing a nuclear weapon in the short and medium terms. What will happen in the long term is however uncertain.
A crucial factor is the monitoring regime to be put in place. There is not much trust between the parties to the agreement.
Unfortunately the on-the-spot controls are not as water-tight as expected. International monitors will not have access to the civilian and military nuclear sites whenever they want. The Iranian authorities will have up to 24 days to delay an inspection, in which time they might remove nuclear material. Disagreements on the monitoring will be resolved by a complicated dispute resolving mechanism.
The hope is that the agreement will pave the way for a normalization of relations between Iran and the rest of the world. If the agreement is implemented both in letter and spirit, and Iran during the first 10-15 years opens up to the world, the situation by then will be totally different. Iran and its people will have much to lose if they then restarted the nuclear program.
In its statement on July 20, the Council of the European Union describes the signing of the JCPOA, with the facilitation of Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, as a historic moment. The council also prudently notes that before the lifting of sanctions the IAEA needs to verify that Iran has implemented its commitments as stipulated in the JCPOA.
The statement ended with the council inviting Mogherini to explore ways in which the EU could actively promote a more cooperative regional framework and to report back to the council in the coming months.
This approach is a sharp contrast to a commentary issued by a well known independent think tank in Brussels, the European Policy Centre (EPC). Recently it recruited former EU president Herman Van Rompuy as its new chairman. EPC is representative of the thinking in the “Brussels bubble.”
The ink on the JCPOA had hardly dried when EPC on July 16 issued a brief on “EU-Iran relations post-Vienna: the way forward.” According to the brief the deal presents an opportunity to move beyond the current policy of containment toward constructive engagement.
“No issue of mutual interest should be taboo,” the report states, and goes on to list a number of issues on which the EU should enter a dialogue with Iran as soon as possible: regional security issues, Afghanistan, energy, human rights and sectoral cooperation.
What strikes the reader is the absence of any concern about Iran’s destabilizing role in the region, its support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah and its constant threats against Israel.
The deal might lead to a normalization of relations with the US and the EU, but probably not with Israel.
Nor should we forget the issue of human rights in Iran. It is an issue which normally is part of EU’s conditionality for economic and political relations with third countries.
In Brussels the Association of Iranian Refugees in Belgium organized a demonstration against the silence of the EU concerning the human rights violations in Iran.
Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei has already stated that the nuclear deal will not change Iran’s policy.
The talks in Vienna were limited to the nuclear issue. “We have no negotiations with America about various global and regional issues.
We have no negotiations on bilateral issues,” Khamenei said recently.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not give up support of its friends in the region – the oppressed people of Palestine, of Yemen, the Syrian and Iraqi governments, the oppressed people of Bahrain and the sincere resistance fighters in Lebanon and Palestine.” Khamenei’s words were greeted by chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
His words bode ill for the Middle East peace process, the Sunni-Shi’ite divide in the region and the rivalry with Saudi Arabia. The latter is continuing its bombing campaign in Yemen with American support.
According to news reports, European companies are already planning business trips to Iran to explore investment and trade opportunities.
This is understandable and will benefit the Iranian economy, which has suffered heavily because of the sanctions – without which Iran would not have agreed to the JCPOA.
But the drawback of the lifting of sanctions is that Iran will be awash with cash to fund its terrorist allies and proxies and threaten peace and stability in the region. This unintentional consequence of the nuclear deal demands the EU’s attention.
As EPC writes, it may not be so easy to establish a “win-win” situation of cooperation with Iran.
There are significant differences between member states on the level of engagement with Iran. What is required, if the EU wants to stick to its own values and contribute to peace in the region, is to apply a policy of conditionality in the EU-Iran dialogue.
This brings me to High Representative Mogherini’s second reporting task to the council. At the same meeting that discussed the nuclear agreement with Iran, the council asked Mogherini to explore options for the establishment of an international support group to contribute to the Middle East peace process.
So here we have two tasks, one concerning promoting a more cooperative regional framework in the Middle East and the other one concerning reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
The first one concerns directly Iran’s role and is linked to the aftermath of the signing of the nuclear agreement.
However, Iran as a regional actor can hardly be excluded from the peace process. Hitherto Iran has played a totally negative role by its military support to Hamas and Hezbollah. The Iran nuclear threat has been Israel’s major concern and distracted it from moving forward in the peace process with the Palestinians.
The JCPOA should give Israel time to focus on the peace process. By giving peace with the Palestinians a chance, Israel would also uproot the pretext for the Iranian threats.
EU support for the peace process would be more credible and surely more than welcome in Israel if the EU would simultaneously pressure Iran to stop threatening Israel with annihilation and instead engage in a constructive peace dialogue.
This obviously requires some coordinated effort by the EU and Mogherini. If it can be done remains to be seen.
The writer is a former official at the European Commission.