Biggest joke of the new Iran deal? Its guarantor

Under the revised plan,  Russia will ensure Tehran meets its obligations 


United states and Iran - National flags on Brick wall with nuclear icon

April 20, 2022 10:17

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine you had the power to impose agreements on countries. They have no say in the matter, and have to sign up to anything you demand. 

I think it’s pretty obvious what the first such agreement most of us would impose would be. I’d tell Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, demand it submits its government and armed forces to a war crimes investigation and insist that it fully compensates Ukraine for the costs of the invasion, as well as its rebuilding.

However, there’s a catch I haven’t mentioned. Yes, you can demand that any country signs up to anything you say. But you have no power at all to police the agreement. Sign up they may have to, but you can do nothing if they choose to ignore what they signed.

I choose my words carefully, because there is a further twist. You can’t police the agreement, but what you can do is nominate another country to do that. You can choose one country to ensure that the agreements you have imposed are observed.

So which would you choose? China? Come on, be serious. Venezuela? You’re having a laugh. Russia? Look, this is getting silly now.

Silly it may be, but this is no thought experiment. It is the thinking behind the talks that have been taking place in Vienna in recent months to put together a revived Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal.

You read that right. Under the proposed new agreement, the country that will be tasked with ensuring that Iran complies with its obligations under the terms of the deal is Russia.

That says pretty much all anyone needs to know about the worth — or rather the danger — of the proposed deal.

The first JCPOA was abandoned by President Trump in 2018. The evidence was overwhelming that Iran was not just creating a civil nuclear energy capacity but was engaged in the development of nuclear weapons — the very thing that the JCPOA’s advocates ludicrously claimed it would stop.

What happened next was instructive. Under the US’s “maximum pressure” sanctions strategy, Iran was being brought to its knees economically. There was still a long way to go to remove the threat it posed as a nation, but the foundations were there for that to seem a realistic possibility. 

The election of President Biden removed that possibility as many of those who were behind the original misguided JCPOA agreement returned to office, having learned nothing in their years out of power. And here we are again, with the US administration determined to give the world JCPOA Mark II and thus to give Iran a $90 billion bonanza from funds being unfrozen and $55 billion a year in sanctions relief.

Reaching a second deal has not been straightforward, not least because Russia is demanding that its $1.5billion annual trade with Iran is exempted from Ukraine sanctions. This matters because Russia is one of the core participants and can effectively veto any deal.

My colleague Jake Wallis Simons revealed last month one of the most astonishing aspects of the proposed new deal, allowing advanced centrifuges to be put in storage rather than destroyed. 

And, he pointed out, although Iran is meant to dismantle its progress over the past three years, it will not “unlearn” its knowledge of how to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) and perfect centrifuge manufacture. Iran will be within touching distance of a bomb, and the country charged with ensuring that it is not will be Russia. It would be funny were it not terrifying.

As of now, negotiations have collapsed over the US’s blacklisting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2019. Iran is demanding this designation is lifted. The US offered to do this if Iran promised not to retaliate against the US over the 2020 assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Iran said no and the impasse remains.

But the Biden administration is determined to conclude a deal, and only a naïve fool would place any hope in that not meaning further concessions to the Iranians.

The omens are dire, as will be the consequences of a deal. And all we will have to reassure us will be Russia.

April 20, 2022 10:17

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