Background of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal is an agreement that aims at nuclear non-proliferation and at limiting and redesigning Iran’s nuclear power. It is safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has the duty of supervising the way in which the agreement is implemented. Also, the JCPOA includes the issue related to sanctions, namely, the guarantee of the United States, as well as those of the European Union, to put an end to the nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions imposed on Iran. It was signed on the 14th of July 2015 in Vienna, Austria, between the Islamic Republic of Iran, the P5+1, meaning the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) plus Germany and the European Union. The nuclear deal is based on the Joint Plan of Action, signed on the 24th of November 2013 between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva, Switzerland. This one served as an interim accord and marks the point when the almost two-year-long negotiations for the JCPOA were started. This was possible because a new president was elected in 2013 in Iran, President Hassan Rouhani, who accepted, together with the parties, to pursue negotiations for such an agreement, mainly with the aim of eliminating international sanctions that have had a great impact on the Iranian economy.
On the 8th of May 2018, the United States, under the Trump administration, announced the withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The withdrawal came hand in hand with reimposing the sanctions on Iran. The sanctions have deeply marked the Iranian economy and the development of the country. The situation worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as the sanctions prevented Iran from providing the people with the needed medicine and medical care in order to save as many lives as possible. Since the US withdrew from the deal, Iran no longer fully complied with it, further developing its nuclear program. Now, with a new administration in Washington, negotiations for reviving the JCPOA have begun, even though the Iranian officials were disappointed by the fact that President Joe Biden did not mention the nuclear deal among his priorities. The relations between the two main actors, Iran, and the United States, remain tense and it is not certain what will happen and whether the nuclear deal will be reinforced or if the negotiations will lead to a failure.
The latest development
During the last days of March 2021, the United States had announced the intention to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with the proposal for Iran to cease some of its nuclear activities, while, in return, the US will eliminate the sanctions that should have been eliminated and those that were imposed by Donald Trump. But Iran seemed to avoid the topic until the Iranian mission at the United Nations Organization tweeted on the 30th of March: “Iran is in touch with the remaining participants in the #JCPOA on issues. No proposal is needed for the US to rejoin the JCPOA. It only requires a political decision by the US to fully and immediately implement all of its obligations under the accord and abide by UNSCR 2231.” This means that Iran has never renounced the nuclear deal and that it is willing to return to the initial form of the agreement, with the initial steps and promises established and no additional commitments for now. Iranian officials consider that the United States should make the first move, represented by the fact that the US only has to start respecting and implementing its part from the nuclear deal.
However, negotiations are needed and they have already started. A virtual meeting took place on the 2nd of April between Iran and officials from the other actors that are part of the JCPOA and established a meeting on the 6th of April, in Vienna, where the initial agreement was signed. Representatives from the United States were also present.
Iran has made it clear before any negotiations had taken place, that it will only accept the return of the United States if it will, first of all, remove all the sanctions that it has imposed on Iran, as the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh stated: “The path is clear. All US sanctions [against Iran] must be removed at once. Then [this measure] must be verified [by Tehran] and only then, the Islamic Republic will take its step [to return to full commitments under the nuclear deal]”. He continued: “In other words, we have only one step and not step-by-step [lifting of sanctions], and this one step includes the lifting of all sanctions imposed by the United States. In return, Iran will be ready to reverse its remedial measures, which were taken because the opposite sides violated the treaty.” This makes the position that Iran has advanced during the negotiations a clear one, that the Iranian officials are not willing to take any step further to reconciliation until all restrictions would be lifted. Moreover, Hassan Rouhani, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, called the sanctions “inhumane” and stated that Trump’s policy of maximum pressure was “economic terrorism”: “If you accept that Trump was a terrorist then all of this talk is invalid, if you accept that Trump was a terrorist then you cannot continue this terrorism for one second.” He also added that they need to have daily negotiations in order to find a suitable way for eliminating the sanctions.
The meeting took place on the 6th of April, but the Iranian delegation and the US delegation did not meet directly. Iran had a meeting with the other member states of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, namely the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia. It refused the proposal of the US to split the removal of the sanctions in multiple stages, completely opposing the segmentation of the process and asking for full elimination of the sanctions. The tensions increased as both sides, the United States and Iran, held tight of their own way of proceeding with the nuclear deal: while the US asked for Iran not to violate anymore the terms of the agreement, as the first step for reconciliation, Iran wants the United States to take action first, by lifting the economic sanctions. Moreover, Iran is not willing to even have a face-to-face meeting with the US delegation until the sanctions will be removed. The two sides have communicated through intermediaries from the UK, France, and Germany.
Furthermore, at the meeting two expert working groups were formed on two directions: the sanctions problem and the nuclear issues; that will hopefully find a way of solving the tensions and making the US lift the sanctions and Iran go back to compliance policy.
In what regards the attitude of actors that are non-members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Israel is a power that opposes it. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, made a statement on Holocaust day referring to the Iran nuclear deal. The PM criticized the deal and stated that Iran’s nuclear power is an existential threat. He added: “The nuclear deal with Iran is once again on the table. Such deals with extreme regimes are worthless”.
To conclude, the tensions remain high, but there is still hope for the JCPOA to be put again into practice. Both sides are hopeful for reconciliation. President Rouhani desires to find a solution for the situation, being especially interested in having the sanctions lifted. Iran seems ready to return to the nuclear deal, but only after the sanctions will be removed, as the spokesman of the Iranian government declared: “We are confident that we are on the right track, and if America’s will, seriousness, and honesty is proven, it could be a good sign for a better future for this agreement”.
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About the author:
Delia-Maria MOTAN is Intern research at MEPEI, and her research interest lies in international relations and political science in the Middle East. Currently, she is studying at the Faculty of the Political Science / University of Bucharest.