WHEN the US withdrew from the multilateral Iran nuclear deal in 2018, it was hoped that the other signatories would help save the landmark accord by helping investment reach Iran’s battered economy. Due mainly to US pressure, hardly any of that investment has materialised, and the Iranians had been saying for a long time that if the deal failed to bring them due benefits, they would withdraw. Sadly, it appears that the JCPOA, as the nuclear deal is known, may now well be in its death throes as according to the IAEA, Iran has violated the restrictions placed on its nuclear activities by the 2015 accord. Specifically, the global nuclear watchdog says Tehran has surpassed the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to keep.
For a brief while over the past few days, it seemed that behind the scenes, progress was being made between the US and Iran. The most tangible evidence of this emerged when details of a prisoner swap were made public; Iran sent back a US navy veteran it had apprehended while the Americans released an Iranian scientist they were keeping in detention. However, it may well be that the US will pounce on Iran for violating the deal based on the IAEA information, even though it is no longer part of the JCPOA. It is a fact that Iran is under a lot of pressure. Due to crippling US sanctions its economy is tanking, while it has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The violations of the nuclear deal must be seen in this context — a signal from the Iranian establishment that, unless it is given some breathing room, it will discard the deal. However, Iran would be well advised to stick with the deal; any further sanctions and blockades will only add to the miseries of the Iranian people. Moreover, the other signatories of the deal — the Europeans, China and Russia — must try and save it, mainly by allowing more economic interaction with Iran. Should the situation deteriorate resulting in Iran’s departure from the deal, it will not be a good omen for the region. The war party within President Donald Trump’s administration will once again raise shrill cries for Iran to be ‘punished’ and, should they deliver on this threat, the people of the Middle East will suffer the consequences. Therefore, Iran must tread carefully and resist such provocations.
Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2020