On 8 May 2019, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s announced that Iran will suspend two commitments it had voluntarily pledged under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
He also issued a 60-day ultimatum to the European signatories to the nuclear deal, Russia and China, to take practical steps toward delivering on their promises to protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors from US sanctions. More Iranian measures have already been outlined if Europe continues to fail to provide Iran with the economic dividends promised by the accord.
This “ultimatum” needs to be interpreted that Iran is willing to keep the deal alive. We need to consider the context: President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA one year ago, and subsequently announced tough new sanctions instead of sanctions relief. Recently, the State Department announced that the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln and its accompanying battlegroup would be redeployed from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Raising alarm bells even more, the US announced the removal of non-emergency personnel from their posts in Iraq, and warned that it the administration was preparing to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East, setting the scene for a catastrophic military conflagration whose dimensions, duration and costs for the region and beyond, cannot even be tabulated.
Since its inception forty years ago, the Islamic Republic has fostered close ties with significant allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
The US is aware that Iran, with its alliance patterns in the region, in the form of loyal proxies and surrogates, is bulletproof. And while Iran is aware that these are merely psychological provocations and bluffs, it does have an interest in keeping the nuclear deal alive, but it also hopes to signal that the remaining signatories need to demonstrate assertiveness in pressuring the US to mitigate its behavior. Whilst they have rejected the two-month deadline, the EU-3, Russia, and China, also want to see the deal survive.
The EU needs to show that it is strategically relevant vis à vis the US and that it can provide the economic dividends promised by the accord. The message is clear: European parties need to fulfill their obligations under the pact and come up with measures to facilitate trade with the financial mechanisms they have pledged to implement. In turn, Rouhani emphasisedthat at any given time that its demands are met, Iran will resume compliance with suspended commitments.
The letter and the spirit of this deal have been violated and it is effectually null and void. The onus is on the Europeans to breathe life into the accord.
If the Europeans fail to fulfill their end of the bargain in the face of US pressure, Iran will likely abandon the deal as it cannot be a single party to a 7-party agreement. Thus, the so-called “ultimatum” should really be seen as an offer to the EU to keep the deal alive. Iran has already demonstrated good will by remaining in this agreement for one year and by complying while other parties have been unable to meet their commitments. Any longer, without reciprocity, is a signal that Iran is succumbing to arbitrariness and bullying – which would undermine the very revolutionary principles on which the Islamic Republic stands on.
The opinions expressed in this blog are solely the authors’ point of view and do not bind the Center for International Studies, its Director or any other researcher. 2015 Photo by Bundesministerium für Europa / C BY 2.0
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