REANALYSING JCPOA: IS THE AGREEMENT A FAILURE IN THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM?

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Iran and P5+1 nations (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) on 15 July 2015. Iran complied with the deal to get sanction relief by breaking down major nuclear missions.

Background

The objective behind the UNSC Resolution 2231 endorsing JCPOA was to reduce the tensions between Iran and its regional neighbours by prohibiting Iran’s nuclear weapons program revival. However, after three years of the deal, in 2018, former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal. Since then, the plan has been at risk at certain levels. Furthermore, reports came out in 2020 that Iran commenced nuclear activities. 

Donald Trump terminated U.S. participation in the JCPOA, stating that the deal failed in protecting America’s national security interests.

Objectives of JCPOA

The first and foremost aim of the JCPOA was to restrict or limit Iran from using its nuclear capacity extensively. In return for the deal, Iran would get various opportunities to grow the economy. The agenda limits Iran from using Uranium excessively by reducing the stockpile usage limit by 96%. If Iran goes against the restrictions, then massive sanctions would be imposed. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has complete control and freehold over Iran. It could run inspections anytime at the non-declared sites where they think nuclear work is going on.  

Iran’s compliance and breaches with the deal

As per the report released by IAEA in June 2018, Iran has been complying with the commitments under the deal. According to that report, Iran’s Uranium stockpile was below the 300 kg limit per the accord, whereas Iran used 123.9 kg uranium.

The research and development activities were aligned with the state’s long-term plan. As part of its safeguards agreement, Iran has continued implementing additional protocols and allowed additional monitoring and verification measures.

However, in May 2018, President Trump re-imposed the sanctions on Iran and withdrew from the JCPOA, resulting in a deal violation.

After a year of the withdrawal in May 2019, Iran steadily began to violate the accord’s terms. It resumed the uranium enrichment activities beyond 3.67%. The activities at the nuclear facilities were also resumed, which were prohibited earlier. As per the Iranian government, the violations had links to the failure to deliver sanctions relief to the nation and Trump’s decision to withdraw.

A satellite image of Iran’s Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant
Image courtesy- Aljazeera

In 2020, Iran Government declared that they would not be complying with JCPOA’s commitments as mentioned in the pact. However, the IAEA inspections were allowed at the undeclared nuclear sites. Iran further stated that they would comply with the pact only by easing the sanctions.

From enriching 20% uranium in 2021’s first quarter to 60% and in August 2021, IAEA verified that Iran had begun production of Uranium for weapons of mass destruction. Iran urged that they would reverse all their activities if the U.S. lifted the sanctions.

The aftermath of the withdrawal 

The international nature of this multilateral agreement emphasised that every country has to abide by the rules and regulations of the deal. Iran was complying with the deal. Nevertheless, the U.S. violated the accord by withdrawing from the deal.

After the announcement by the Trump administration regarding the withdrawal, Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, proposed a statement. He emphasised that Iran is ready to stick with the agreement as long as the other signatories could ensure full support. 

Iranians protesting against the U.S. decision to withdraw from the JCPOA

China’s entry as a key player 

The fear of further sanctions has lost its sting over the last four years, as Tehran has learned to deal with harsh U.S. measures. Furthermore, unlike in the pre-JCPOA era, China is not entirely on board, although it looks dedicated to stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. According to reports, China is already evading U.S. sanctions by purchasing Iranian oil. China bought about 20 million barrels per month, primarily through Malaysia and the UAE. This gives crucial revenue to Tehran, allowing it to manoeuvre around U.S. pressure. Further, this helps Beijing gain an advantage over Tehran.

A crude oil tanker at Qingdao Port, China. As per the latest Reuters report, the Chinese purchase of Iranian oil is at record levels.
Image
courtesy- Reuters

What will the reinstatement of JCPOA mean for India? 

  • Removing sanctions might revitalise India’s interest in the Chabahar alternative, the Bandar Abbas port, and other regional transportation initiatives. This would also assist India in neutralising China’s footprint in Pakistan’s Gwadar port.
  • The reinstatement might benefit the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC), passing through Iran, which is crucial for India’s connectivity with five Central Asian countries, might also benefit.
Map illustrating the INSTC. The route connects India with Central Asia and Russia.
Image courtesy- ResearchGate
  • India had to reduce its oil imports to zero due to the Countering America’s Adversaries via Sanctions Act (CAATSA) of the U.S. The re-establishment of links between the U.S. and Iran will assist India in obtaining low-cost Iranian oil and ensuring energy security.

The current state of JCPOA

The negotiations have been going on recently after the Biden Administration came into power. President Joe Biden has shown his interest in reviving the deal. The reinstatement of the deal would ease the nuclear restrictions and lift sanctions over Iran. If Iran agrees to sign, it could access frozen foreign reserves and explore new trade and investment opportunities.

There is a possibility that Iran may not agree to it. Because China has ignored all the sanctions imposed on Tehran throughout the years and kept supporting Iran by making the crude oil trade. This trade between Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s President, and Beijing have provided an economic lifeline. This strengthened Iran’s currency against the U.S. dollar since Raisi pledged as president.

Ebrahim Raisi, the President of Iran

Way forward

Proponents of the agreement argue that Iran will profit from moving east, making the West more hostile. In contrast, detractors argue that Iran is giving up too much in its ambition to strengthen ties with China.

“If the deal gets reinstated, Iran would again be able to enjoy the assistance that it had pre-US withdrawal.”

We could not say that the deal was a total failure. However, on the other hand, the deal does not deserve complete appreciation.

The reviving of JCPOA will open new prospects for the Iranian economy. However, the risks associated with the deal could remain post-2024 U.S. elections. Iran’s economy could be dire if the new president again decides to withdraw or if Biden decides to impose sanctions on Iran.

“If the deal does not get passed through, it would question the U.S.A.’s position as the world leader.”

The indecisiveness of going back and forth regarding the deal and violating the agreement’s terms could negatively impact the U.S.’s global dominance. In this scenario, Iran’s economy would not experience a jolt as China has been aiding them since 2018 against the U.S. Sanctions. The Iran-China 25 year Cooperation Program worth 400 billion dollars signed back in the first quarter of 2021 will further bolster the Iranian economy in numerous aspects.  

Read about Australia and its ambitions for nuclear submarines here!

About the Author

AAKRITI VERMA

Aakriti Verma is a fun-loving person, Apart from being a budding reader and a content writer, she has an extreme interest in Socialising. An Extrovert who has literally adopted introverts around her. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in International Relations.

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