Now is the time to save the Iran nuclear deal
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Seven years ago, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, Iran and the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy concluded a landmark diplomatic deal. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was the result of years of intense diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear programme and won the UN Security Council’s unanimous endorsement.
It secured strict limits on Iran’s nuclear activities and the most extensive monitoring and inspection regime ever implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, it opened up the prospect of benefiting economically from the lifting of US, EU and UN sanctions to Iran.
Full implementation of this deal has been severely affected by Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to withdraw the US from it and to pursue a unilateral “maximum pressure” campaign. For its part, Iran has ratcheted up nuclear activity to alarming levels. Regrettably, it has also limited IAEA monitoring, while failing to co-operate fully with the agency under its basic safeguards obligations. “Maximum pressure” failed. Meanwhile, and despite the best efforts of the remaining participants, Iran’s people have been deprived of the full benefits of the sanctions lifting.
To reverse this dangerous escalation, in my capacity as JCPOA co-ordinator, I seized the political momentum of a new US administration to launch in April 2021 a diplomatic process involving the JCPOA participants and the US. The aim was to facilitate a US return to the deal and full US and Iranian implementation of their JCPOA commitments.
After 15 months of intense, constructive negotiations in Vienna and countless interactions with the JCPOA participants and the US, I have concluded that the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted. I have now put on the table a text that addresses, in precise detail, the sanctions lifting as well as the nuclear steps needed to restore the JCPOA.
This text represents the best possible deal that I, as facilitator of the negotiations, see as feasible. It is not a perfect agreement, but it addresses all essential elements and includes hard-won compromises by all sides. Decisions need to be taken now to seize this unique opportunity to succeed, and to free up the great potential of a fully implemented deal. I see no other comprehensive or effective alternative within reach.
We know the JCPOA remains politically polarising in Washington as the midterm elections approach. The deal may not have addressed all US concerns with respect to Iran. The EU shares concerns that go beyond the nuclear issue, such as human rights and Iran’s regional activities. We continuously address them with Iran in bilateral discussions. The JCPOA does not address them, and was never supposed to do so. It did, however, provide the benefit of winding down the previously expanding Iranian nuclear programme and opening it up to strict IAEA monitoring and inspections. This makes it a cornerstone of the global non-proliferation architecture.
Restoring the full implementation of the agreement now can deliver on these benefits again, including through strict limitations on Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity and close monitoring by the IAEA. It can also help bring about a more co-operative security dynamic in the region, creating a positive momentum of confidence building.
We know, too, that in Tehran there are significant reservations over fully implementing a deal after the negative experience of recent years. The deal on the table reflects, however, the determination of all JCPOA participants to ensure its sustainability, including the commitment of President Joe Biden and US assurances in this regard. As a result, the deal is better protected from potential unilateral moves to undermine it.
Every day with no agreement in Vienna postpones concrete economic benefits to the Iranian people through substantial US sanctions lifting, as well as the benefits of non-proliferation for the world. Concluding an agreement now will deliver significant economic and financial dividends as well as strengthen regional and global security. Rejecting it assures a loss on both accounts — who knows for how long.
It is now time for swift political decisions to conclude the Vienna negotiations on the basis of my proposed text and to immediately return to a fully implemented JCPOA. The deal serves the cause of non-proliferation in return for sanctions lifting, showing that in turbulent times balanced international agreements are still possible.
If the deal is rejected, we risk a dangerous nuclear crisis, set against the prospect of increased isolation for Iran and its people. It is our joint responsibility to conclude the deal.
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