JCPOA’s future shrouded in doubt as Iran keeps stepping away

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JCPOA’s future shrouded in doubt as Iran keeps stepping away

 

W hile Iran is stepping away from a nuclear deal it clinched with six major world powers in 2015, there has been talk of a return to the nuclear production capabilities in the pre-deal era, but this time, benefiting from a much more advanced and mature technology featuring new-generation centrifuges with 20 to 50 times the capacity of the older models, upgraded production lines, a significant decrease in nuclear waste, besides more advances in the country’s nuclear equipment.

In addition, Iranian authorities have, on many occasions, started their press briefings on the country’s nuclear program with the assertion that “if the Europeans live up to their side of the agreement, Iran will resume implementing its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)” — as the nuclear accord is officially named. Amid the double standards facing Iran’s stage-by-stage commitment reductions, two theories pop into mind:

— Firstly, officials could be relying on the premise that the West would continue on the path of lies and inaction and fail to take any action to fulfill its end of the bargain. In that case, there would be enough reason to justify Tehran’s move to cut back on its contractual commitments. Such counter-measures would restore the logical balance the deal has lost in the face of Europe’s inaction.

— Secondly, there would be no prospect of fresh negotiations, with zero chances of Iran re-negotiating the nuclear case. Under such circumstances, Iran’s nuclear measures and the new costs the country should pay would be irreversible. Having the two theories in mind, Iran’s rollback of its JCPOA commitments seem to be a wise move. And the cutbacks will keep happening until the deal is fully scrapped —which has already happened in practice.

But a crucial question remains to be answered:

Suppose that Europe someday decides to take action on its obligations under the JCPOA and the future American administrations and other relevant parties offer a wide range of incentives — besides threats — in the nuclear case, promoting us to return to the negotiating table not out of weakness, but from a position of equality or strength. Would we then agree once again to set aside our state-of-the-art nuclear technology and forget about the costs we paid for it?

In another scenario, the path Iran is currently treading could result in a prolonged lack of negotiations and a confrontational approach vis-à-vis the West, while Iran remains under crippling sanctions and threats for the next two decades, with no end to the situation in sight. In such conditions, Iran would need to deal with its weaknesses as swiftly as possible and place the nuclear dossier within the framework of a domestic problem resolution strategy (on the basis of building upon strengths and decreasing weaknesses) rather than stick with the current confrontational stance toward the West.

Is it not wise for Iran to re-define its nuclear strategy, irrespective of which of the two paths it would take?

Under the scenario in which Iran agrees to new negotiations with the West, a drop is expected in the number of limits set on the Iranian nuclear program, especially in the area of enhancing nuclear infrastructure and proliferation technology; therefore, the measures Iran would take until then in response to Europe’s failure to honor its commitments should be viewed as irreversible. The firmer, greater, and quicker steps Iran would take, the more daunting — or even impossible — the prospect would become for a return to the previously-set limits.

For instance, if all the existing 6,000 centrifuges are upgraded to the sixth and eighth generations with the aim of meeting Iran’s need for 120,000 separative work units (SWU) of enriched uranium, the negotiations would only be possible on that capacity, and not on a return to the capabilities of the past. It would be highly ridiculous for Iran to confine itself to older technologies while it is in possession of a more advanced and profitable one.

Another major restriction imposed on Iran’s nuclear program concerns the Arak heavy water reactor. Although the facility is designed solely for research purposes and was functioning with an already outdated technology in the pre-JCPOA era, Iran has the capability to reactivate the nuclear reactor using more advanced technologies and turn it into a center for developing nuclear propellers using highly-enriched uranium, which would correspond to the future needs of Iran’s Navy, shipping industry, and relevant exports.

But, as viewed by the opponents of renegotiation, which most people in the country agree should happen, the nuclear issue should not be limited to energy-related domains, and its capacity should be drawn on for the country’s security as well. And by security, it is not only the military sense that is implicated; security would also connote the use of the nuclear industry as an available and accessible means to resolve the issues of the country, the sale of uranium with unlimited enrichment levels that can be ordered, the export of nuclear-generated electricity, and the export of technical nuclear knowhow and services to all countries that would view it as vital to themselves, regardless of the restrictions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The West could, in turn, re-impose, via the United Nations, all the Iran sanctions, which would be a futile step since Trump has re-imposed them all in a stronger fashion already. Thus, under the current circumstances, given the behavior of the American side and the non-existence of political independence and the absolute inaction on the part of the European side, things would be the same for Iran anyway, and this step would be almost neutral. The only new thing that could happen to Iran as a result is that it could once again fall under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter and a coalition could take action to implement it right up to the brink of taking military action against Iran, or beyond that line, too. That would escalate Iran’s security situation, and would not only precipitate the nuclear program but would also simultaneously alter the country’s current missile strategy. As a result of that step, the threat level against Iran would expand and Iran’s missile needs, too, would increase to beyond what they currently are, so much so that Iran would have to have within its missile range the European countries and any other country that would join the coalition against Iran under Chapter 7.

This strategy would very well show to the European side how its current strategic error in not seeking to peacefully resolve a matter — which had already been very well resolved — could lead to a massive missile crisis, which, coincidentally, would be very much favored by the American business-minded politicians who would enjoy receiving the checks for the sale of missile defense systems to Europe; and, meanwhile, Iran would as always find a way to penetrate America’s most advanced defenses. Thus, the military threat would enter into a new stage with the Union’s own hands — and that at a time when Trump has ushered in an era of military disorder and new rivalries by abandoning all missile treaties. No one knows what victories and defeats would entail at that era.

 

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