Analysis: Iran’s Nuclear Deal; Western Violations, Possible Return to Zero Point

It has been nearly 15 years since 2001 up to now. The 15 years are the age of Iran’s nuclear program case.

Before going international, the Iranian nuclear program up to September 2003 was an International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) case, and it was negotiated with the head of the IAEA. Up to that time, the Western propaganda which was based on the false reports and allegations of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO), a terrorist group working against Tehran’s interests, was not given much attention and caring inside Iran. But Western pressures and majorly the US’ have yielded results, leading to publishing the IAEA’s report in May 2003 on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, and finally adopting the first resolution against the program by the Board of Governors of the IAEA in August the same year. It was after these events that Tehran made Supreme National Security Council responsible for following the case as a transorganizational institution. Since then, Iran’s nuclear program has experienced four distinctive stages.

1. During the first stage, starting from October 6, 2003, through August 15, 2005, Hassan Rouhani, then Secretary of Supreme National Security Council was in charge of the nuclear case. During his 22-month tenure, Rouhani majorly focused on efforts for the nuclear case not to be referred to the UN Security Council, and steering clear of military confrontation with the US. In this stage, the IAEA, the European countries, and Russia demanded that Iran signs the NPT Additional Protocol which grants the IAEA complementary legal authority to verify a state’s safeguards obligations, and suspends its uranium enrichment program. These demands were made while Washington mainly aimed at fully closing down the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities. As time went by Iran decided to negotiate the sticking points with the three European countries of Britain, France, and Germany. During the period three rounds of negotiations were held in Tehran’s Sa’dabad Complex on October 21, 2003, in Brussels on February 23, 2004, and in Paris on November 15, 2004, between the sides. Agreements were reached, taking their names from the places of the negotiations. According to the deals, Tehran voluntarily and as a trust-making step signed the Additional Protocol, and at the same time suspended for a certain time its uranium enrichment. This move faced serious criticism at home as the country was bracing for its ninth presidential election, as new parliament was elected, and following the Paris Agreement. The current speaker of Iran’s parliament Ali Larijani at that time said that Iran was given nothing in return for its big step of enrichment suspension, standing as a voice of critics of Rouhani-led negotiation team.

2. During the second stage, beginning from August 15, 2004, through October 21, 2007, Ali Larijani as the Secretary of National Security Council of Iran took over the nuclear negotiations case. This stage witnessed Iran showing a completely different approach towards nuclear talks. There was a notion leading in Iran that the past time process of nuclear dialogue with the West was not productive, and actually it did not help any advances that could lead to a final settlement. During the stage, Tehran resumed enrichment activity which was voluntarily suspended when Rouhani was in charge, unsealed Natanz nuclear facilities, reduced level of cooperation with the IAEA, and halted implementation of NPT terms. On the other side, the IAEA sent the case to the Security Council in January 2006, and the Security Council adopted new anti-Iranian resolutions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, calling the Iranian nuclear program a “threat to the global peace.”

In Larijani time, the nuclear talks were relaunched this time with presence of Russia and China along with the three European powers. Larijani himself held negotiations with the former Chief of EU Foreign Policy Javier Solana in different European cities including Berlin, Bern, Munich, Madrid, and Lisbon. While the news spread that during the negotiations agreements were made to have Iran temporarily and partially suspend its enrichment activity in return for easing the UN sanctions imposed on Tehran, Larijani resigned from his post. The evidences indicate that the major drive behind Larijani’s resignation was the differences between him and the president of Iran over the reached agreements.

3. After Larijani, Saeed Jalili took the post, taking the case to a highly different course. He was in charge for six years from October 2007 up to June 2013. In this six-year stage while Iran’s negotiations were under way with P5+1 countries unhalted, the West and the UN added to their pressures and sanctioned the Islamic Republic dramatically. On the other hand, Tehran unprecedentedly developed capacities of its nuclear program. The key approach of Jalili was resistance to the demands of the Security Council and the West for suspension of the uranium enrichment. The Iranian team called on the other side to recognize the right of enrichment of uranium on Iran’s soil. A total of nine rounds of negotiations were held between the two sides during the six years, but none of them ended in agreement. In fact, the outcome of every round of dialogue was intensified confrontation between the negotiating sides. The West had at its disposal the tool of economic sanctions to put strains on Tehran, while Iran in response sped up development of its nuclear activities.

4. The fourth stage came to existence when Iran elected its eleventh president, namely the current President Hassan Rouhani. This time the nuclear case was not a purely international and foreign policy case. During the campaigns of eleventh presidential race in Iran, the ways to settle the nuclear crisis were the leading topic of debates of the candidates. On the other hand, the erosive process of nuclear dialogue made the Iranians aware of the significance of finding a peaceful settlement for the nuclear case. Therefore, in the presidential election of 2013 people voted for the candidate who pledged finding solution for nuclear issue and working to see all of the sanctions lifted in a shortest time. As the eleventh government came to office, a new chapter was opened in the process of nuclear negotiations. The nuclear case was transfered from the Supreme National Security Council to the foreign ministry, with Javad Zarif becoming responsible to follow the negotiations. This time’s talks were drastically distinct from what they were in the past. Most extensive talks were held during the past three years in foreign ministers, experts, and deputies levels in bilateral and multilateral forms, aiming at creating an exchanged trust. Direct negotiations with the American senior officials was the most distinctive feature of this stage. The outcome of two-year talks in New York, Geneva, Lausanne, and Vienna was an agreement known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ( JCPA) in June 2015, according to which Iran pledged to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for lifting parts of UN sanctions. Iran suspended 20 percent uranium enrichment, scaled down number of centrifuges, reduced its enriched uranium, and allowed intensive IAEA’s supervisions and inspections as its major commitments in the deal.

Now it has been a year since the deal was made, and nearly eight months since it was implemented. A look at the process of implementation and the two sides’ commitments shows that Iran has fully fulfilled its pledges, something confirmed by the IAEA and the Western parties. However, this is not true when it comes to the US and other Western countries. Washington declined to fulfill its commitments of lifting the sanctions, and quitting its hostile approaches towards the Islamic Republic. Although the US claims that it is totally committed to terms of the JCPA, it never showed honest behavior. Imposing new sanctions on Iran for non-nuclear excuses, seizing Iran’s assets in the US, and blocking Tehran’s access to the US financial system have created an atmosphere that keeps the US’ European partners away from entry to Iran’s economy and starting trade, and from economic partnership with Tehran. It can be noted that Washington’s major aim for this stage is depriving Iran of the advantages the nuclear deal foresees for Tehran— something referred to in the latest report of the UN Secretary General, which drew US government’s protest.

On the other side, the Iranian political and nuclear officials have protested American behavior in past few weeks, warning that should US keeps violation of the deal implementation process, it would return to zero point and resume its suspended nuclear activities.

All in all, the two sides’ tried in past few months not to show a behavior to be labeled as violators of the deal, and so not to shoulder the costs of violation of the agreement.

They still describe themselves as committed to terms of the JCPA. This comes while Iran’s goodwill and US violations are facing mediation attempts by European and Eastern partners of two sides. Continuation of this situation would push the implementation towards even more serious challenges. It must be seen if the Iranian government would be able to convince the US government to adhere to its commitments, or there appears a regressive tendency in the nuclear deal and so a return to the zero point by the two sides.

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