The Politics of the Iranian Nuclear Deal: Containing the Precipitation of a Russo-American Hot War

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in Tehran on April 3, 2015. Iran vowed to stand by a nuclear deal with world powers as Rouhani promised it would open a "new page" in the country's global ties. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Currently, there is a Cold War between the United States and its European Union allies but this is hardly taken up as a serious matter in international discourses, and yet, the manifestations are there. The Cold War is essentially driven by three factors: fear of nuclear proliferation, policy of ‘America First’ as introduced by President Donald Trump, and Russia’s foreign policy in Europe.

What really is Cold War and in which way is it different from a hot war? On April 16, 1947, Bernard Baruch, then former adviser to US presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Harry S. Truman, ‘coined the word “Cold War” to describe the increasingly chilly relations between two World War II Allies: the United States and the Soviet Union.’ (vide www.politico.com). As told by Andrew Glass, Baruch used the phrase in a speech to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where his portrait was being unveiled. In the words of Baruch, ‘let us not be deceived, we are today in the midst of a Cold War. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: our unrest is the heart of their success.’

Baruch’s observation is quite interesting at two different levels. The first is that he saw the Cold War in terms of enemies, and the enemies are both at home and abroad. Secondly, he believed that the foreign policy of the enemy states is basically to ensure that there is unrest in the United States. In these two cases, the enemy abroad was the Soviet Union and its allies but the identity of the enemies within the United States was not made known. The enemy at home may also be interpreted to imply an enemy within the membership of the Western allies, but which of the countries were considered to be the enemy or enemies? Whatever is the case, the division between the West and the East, and particularly the United States and the Soviet Union, intensified to the extent that Winston Churchill came up with the concept of ‘Iron Curtain’ during his speech in Fulton. Mo., on March 5, 1946. Thereafter, Cold War, as a concept, came into being and continually refers to the tension between the former Soviet Union and its satellites States in Eastern Europe, on the one hand, and the United States and its western allies, on the other.

Tension, in this regard, does not include the use of military force, and when it does, it is done by proxy, but hardly directly. Rather than the use of military action, emphasis is placed on political and economic propaganda, undermining the national interests of the opposition through their surrogates and proxy wars. The Cold War covered the period from 1947 to 1991, as from which the post-Cold War is believed to have started. Today, the foundation of the rebirth of a new Cold War has been laid under President Donald Trump with his America First and Making America Great Again.
With the policy of ‘America First,’ what is ordinarily known and well understood is that priority will always be given to American interest in all policy calculations, with the ultimate objective of making America great again. However, the modalities of achieving this objective are, at best, not made known. This is one of the reasons why Donald Trump as an individual, as a policy maker, as a president and as a politician has been very controversial and non-predictable. He has a very belligerent foreign policy and offensive attitudinal disposition.

In fact, this is why he has adopted a policy of use of ‘maximum pressure’ and manu militari approach to the conduct and management of United States foreign policy, in such a way that he has to always threaten other sovereign states with ultimatums and sanctionary measures. It is within this frame of mind that the Iranian nuclear deal, the geo-politics of it, as well as the deepening dangers of nuclearisation and efforts at its containment should be explained and understood.
Without doubt, the United States is vehemently against nuclear proliferation, especially in terms of carelessly allowing its access to the terrorists. There is no disputing the fact that hardened extremist Islamic jihadists, who may want to take advantage of its use to do incalculable destruction to humanity, are there as permanent threats. The United States’ fears cannot therefore but be legitimate.

However, there are the other countries who argue that maintenance of their own safety, defence and security cannot be allowed to be put under the carpet and that they not only need nuclear arms for their own peaceful purposes but also for deterrence in the event of unprovoked aggression. North Korea, for instance, believes that the United States remains its own arch enemy and that the only country that is most likely to undermine North Korea’s security interest is the United States. This is one of the main reasons why North Korea has to withdraw from the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons agreement in order to develop nuclear capability in response to the United States.

In the same vein, Iran wants to develop nuclear capacity and capability which, again, the United States is opposed to. In order to manage Iran’s ambition, and particularly because Iran had been violating the provisions of the nuclear non-proliferation agreement, a deal was struck between Iran and the Five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany and the European Union, in 2015. The deal now appears to be on the path of désuétude with the withdrawal of the United States and the apparent baiting of the Iranian government by other signatories to the agreement. This is what is currently pushing the movement and escalation from Cold War to Hot War, and which has to be nipped in the bud by necessity.
Hot War is essentially about shooting war or military hostilities, with or without battle fields. In this regard, the fundamental difference between Cold and Hot War is the direct use of weapons in Hot War and its non-use in the case of Cold War. Thus, a Hot War is necessarily a negation of a Cold War. With the clarification in mind, how is the Iranian nuclear deal likely to precipitate a cold or hot war? How do we explain the geo-politics of it within the maintenance of the need for global peace and security?

The Iranian Nuclear Deal
The Iranian Nuclear Deal is another expression for the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action (CJPOA), which is also described as the P5+1 and the European Union and signed on July 14, 2015 after twenty months of negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, and Vienna, Austria, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 on July 20, 2015 and supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The CJPOA is a 159-page agreement, signed by the foregoing stakeholders along with Iran (making eight signatories in all), and which entered into force on 18 October, 2015. The implementation of the CJPOA is structured into five stages of implementation and specially aimed at holding back Iran’s nuclear programme, to begin with, and to permanently prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability in the long run.

The first stage is the Finalisation Day of the Agreement, that is, July 14, 2015 a day which all the French people celebrate as their National Day. The Finalisation Day is the crescendo of the 20 months of negotiation in which the proactive, positive role of Russians was not only specially and thankfully appreciated by former US president Barack Obama, but which also is what the incumbent President Donald trump considers as one of the major issues to be addressed. Donald Trump does not see the CJPOA as an agreement that protects the American interest.
Adoption Day is the second stage. It took place on October 18, 2015, that is, 90 days after July 20, 2015 when it was accepted by the UNSC. This is simply to show that the CJPOA went through various levels of approval process. Implementation Day is the third level. for which January 16, 2016 was set. This was the day the IAEA was required to certify that Iran had taken the required steps to restrict its nuclear program and put necessary and increased monitoring efforts in place.

The fourth stage, called the Transition Day, is to be in October 2023 when it is expected that the United Nations will lift the missile restrictions placed on Iran and also when Iran will be required to seek the ratification of its Additional Protocol, when the European Union should terminate all remaining nuclear sanctions, and when the United States is to remove some sanctions, as well as seek legislative sanctions. And finally, there is the Termination Day scheduled to take place ten years after the Adoption Day, that is, under normal circumstance, the nuclear program of Iran is expected to have been completely neutralised by 2025.
As programmed, many issues are covered by the Iranian deal: uranium enrichment; uranium stockpile; Fordow, which is converted to research facility for stable isotope production with Russian cooperation; advanced centrifuge research and development; Arak reactor; role of the Joint Commission; United Nations sanctions; United States sanctions; and monitoring and verification.

Of all these issues, three of them are critical to the understanding of the hullaballoo that has come to threaten global security in an unprecedented manner. They are monitoring and verification, the Joint Commission, and the United States sanctions. The three issues all combine to explain the current controversy surrounding the withdrawal of the United States from the deal, as well as the baiting of other signatories to the deal.
In this regard, the Joint Commission is required to hold quarterly meetings or by request, to oversee the deal for 25 years. A 15-day dispute resolution mechanism within the Joint Commission is provided for with an optional 15-day ministerial review and/or arbitration opinion from a 3-member panel, which is to be followed by a 5-day review of the arbitration opinion. In this regard, ‘if no resolution and complaining party sees action as “significant non-performance,” the unresolved issue can be treated as grounds to cease performing commitments in whole or part, complaining party will notify the UNSC.’ Perhaps, more importantly, any party can go to the UNSC to put sanctions back in place if there is non-compliance by vetoing a resolution calling for the continuance of sanctions.

At the level of Monitoring and Verification stage, it is required that by 15 October 2015, Iran should have implemented the PMD roadmap agreed with the IAEA. Monitoring and verification is about the continuous monitoring of Iran’s uranium mines and mills which should be for 25 years, while that of Iran’s centrifuge production facilities should be for 20 years. What is particularly noteworthy about the foregoing is the geo-politics of the deal following the withdrawal of the United States from the deal on May 8, 2018. The US withdrawal has created a fresh three-dimensional issue to be addressed: United States versus all other stakeholders; Iran versus all other stakeholders to the CJPOA; and Iran versus all others without the United States.

As noted above, the signatories are eight in all: the UNSC P-5, Germany, European Union and Iran, which had been placed under international sanctions before the 2015 CJPOA for non-compliance with the obligations of the Treaty on Nuclear non-Proliferation. The attitudinal disposition of the signatories is conflicting to the extent that it has the potential to bring Russia and the United States into exchange of military hostilities.
Going by the provisions of the CJPOA, the United States have the right of withdrawal from the agreement, but not subject to conditions that are considered detrimental to the collective interests of other signatories to the agreement. At the level of the United States, it is believed, rightly or wrongly, that Iran has not been faithful to the obligations created by the CJPOA, hence the need to withdraw from it. Besides, President Donald Trump argues that the agreement, as it is, is not in the interest of the United States, and therefore, it has to be renegotiated.
This is one major rationale for the adoption of the policy of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran, a policy that has actually come to characterise US foreign policy under President Donald Trump.

In the eyes of Iran, it is not only the United States that has breached both the spirit, and the actual contents of the agreement, but also the European Union, in particular. Iran has it that, following US withdrawal from the agreement, Iran claimed that it had asked the European Union to stop the US sanctions and prevent Iran from unnecessary onslaught. The economic assistance sought was not forthcoming as expected, even though the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, was reported to have said in 2004 that ‘we Europeans have constantly advised our Iranian partners in their own well-founded interest to view us as their protective shield (vide Mathias Kuntzel,” The Nuclear Deal crumbles,”, Friday May 24, 2019, www.telospress.com). Consequently, on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the US withdrawal from the CJPOA, Iran decided to opt out of the agreement in part.

As explained by both President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, Iran has only been compelled to do so. In this regard, Iran has been compelled to wait for one year before opting out partially from the accord because the EU stakeholders requested for enough time to compensate Iran for what it had lost as a result of the US withdrawal. In the words of Rouhani, ‘my country has patiently waited for a year, but no tangible economic recompense has been forthcoming. Iran was left with no other option than to cease performing some commitments – such as observing limits on stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water – for two months. The Iranian Permanent Representative to the United Nations has it further that ‘we cannot – and no one reasonably can – be expected to unilaterally honour a multilateral agreement.’

More interestingly, President Rouhani said: ‘we do not want to leave the agreement. All the people of the world should know that today is not the end of the CJPOA. It is a new step within the framework of the CJPOA.’ In other words, Iran’s eventual opting out of the agreement is nothing more than a resultant of force majeure. In fact, Foreign Minister of Iran has said that Iran would treat the re-introduction of United States sanctions ‘as ground to cease performing its commitments under this CJPOA in whole or in part.’ This is precisely the current situation with the agreement.

With this reasoning in mind, dialogue between Iran and the United States is already fraught with difficulties ab initio, especially that Iran considers that it is being intimidated and coerced by the United States, and particularly that there is lack of mutual respect as sovereign states and that there is no reason for the United States to have withdrawn without giving good reason. In fact, from the perspective of the Iranians, the United States, under Donald Trump, has no credibility and should not be relied on.
Another stakeholder, France, on May 7, 2019, conveyed its wishes thus: ‘we do not want Tehran to announce tomorrow (May 8, 2019 when it would be exactly one year of US withdrawal) actions that would violate the nuclear agreement, because in this case, we Europeans would be obliged to re-impose sanctions as per the terms of the agreement.’ The French Defense Minister, Florence Parly, added that ‘today, nothing would be worse than Iran, itself, leaving the accord’ (Washington Post, May 8, 2019).

As good a warning as the French re-imposition of sanctions might be, there is no good justification for it, simply because the European Union stakeholders have said, and for that matter publicly, that Iran is on record to have been complying with its obligations under the CJPOA. Therefore, This is in contradiction to the policy stand of the United States. Additionally, if Iran has to wait for one year for the objective intervention of the European partners but to no avail, Iran, unlike in Nigeria where, most unfortunately, the Constitution requires the Government to respect international law as a foreign policy objective, cannot be rightly required to respect an agreement that has not been faithfully adhered to by others.
Like the French, the British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has therefore urged ‘the Iranians to think very long and hard before they break the deal.’ And true, Iran has said it could not comply with Section 7 of the agreement which requires the regime to limit its inventory of low-enriched uranium to only 300 kg, and also with Section 10 of the agreement which requires Iran not to manufacture or store more than 130 tonnes of heavy water for a period of 15 years. Heavy water is what is used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

As regards Russia, its foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, wanted on May 8, 2019 the European partners to fulfil their obligations under the CJPOA. He said ‘the United States is to blame for the situation and it makes it difficult for both Iran to fulfil its obligations and … the general state of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.’ More important, while appearing with his Iranian counterpart, Russia reaffirmed its expressed September 2018 unconditional support for the CJPOA and noted that it is not that Russia is pleased with the current situation but that ‘Russia does not particularly want to see the agreement fall apart, not least because it has a stake in the diplomatic achievement of which it was part.’

What is significant to note here is that the withdrawal of the United States from the CJPOA has brought Russia and Iran together more than ever before, as well as strengthen Iranian ties with China in such a way that the influence of the United States is now critically being reduced. But, perhaps more significantly, Russia appears to want to still avenge for the dismantlement of the former Soviet Union.

In other words, Russia wants to weaken the European Union, bring back the former Eastern European allies under Russian influence. These objectives cannot but bring Russia and the United States into open confrontation, directly or indirectly. What is evident as at today is the existence of a Cold War manifestations. There is the need to prevent their escalation. North Korea and Syria are two critical allies the US of Donald Trump is fighting. In both cases, efforts should be made to prevent the testing of new weapons in such countries.