Iran has announced on Wednesday that it will stop fulfilling part of the commitments of the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) signed in 2015 in response to the abandonment of the pact by the United States just a year ago.
The decision, which implies that the country will stop limiting its reserves of heavy water and enriched uranium as it had promised, raises the tension between Tehran and Washington and has been communicated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the ambassadors of the rest of the countries that signed the pact (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China). In a televised speech to the nation, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani made it clear that Iran is not abandoning the Comprehensive Joint Action Plan (JCPOA).
“In order to protect the security and national interests of Iranians, and in application of the rights established in Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran has given the order to interrupt some of the measures it adopted under that agreement as of today, 8 May 2019,” states the Council communiqué, of which Rouhani has informed in letters to the leaders of the other five signatory countries. “We are no longer committed to limitations on the amount of enriched uranium or heavy water that we can maintain,” he said.
In a gradual process over the next two months, Iran will stop selling excess heavy water produced in the uranium enrichment process and will no longer exchange excess enriched uranium for raw ore, as established by the JCPOA.
Iran gives the rest of the signatories of the agreement 60 days to fulfil their commitments, especially with regard to oil and the banking system. The lifting of sanctions in these sectors were the main benefits that Iran was going to obtain by limiting its atomic program, but they have been left in a tailspin as a result of the decision of the US president, Donald Trump, to remove his country from the agreement, claiming that Iran was using the economic benefits of the pact to pay for its missile program and for regional groups contrary to its interests or those of its allies.
Despite the fanfare with which Iran has announced these measures, amidst a climate of growing tension with the United States, President Rouhani has made it clear that his country is still interested in the agreement and is not leaving the negotiating table. During his televised message to the nation, he has insisted that the JCPOA should be a win-win pact. He also underlined the failure of the rest of the signatories, especially the European Union, to fulfil their obligations.
“The EU has failed to fulfil its economic promises to Iran. The European position is good in words, but not in deeds,” said Rouhani. Iranian leaders have been complaining for months about the inability of Europeans to stand up to the United States and make the Trade Support Instrument (INSTEX) work, with which Brussels is trying to allow European companies to trade with Iran. The lack of progress in this regard, which European diplomatic sources attribute to the problems of the Iranian banking system, has caused Tehran to turn to Russia, China and Turkey in search of alternative channels to circumvent sanctions.
The analysts’ first impression is that Iran has reacted with restraint by postponing the measures for 60 days. The Tehran government is under great pressure from the United States, especially since last week US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to sanction countries that receive excess uranium or heavy water from Iran. Hence, the decision to stop selling these products, as established in the nuclear agreement, and to store them beyond the permitted limits is more a consequence than an initiative.
Although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has periodically ratified Iran’s compliance with the agreement, the United States reintroduced its sanctions last year (especially on vital oil exports) and extended its reach to third countries. In addition, it has just cancelled the exceptions that allowed the purchase of Iranian crude oil, included the Revolutionary Guard in its list of terrorist organizations and sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to counter an imprecise threat from Tehran.
The effect of the sanctions has been brutal. In the last year, inflation has skyrocketed above 40%, the rial (Iranian currency) has lost two thirds of its value and tens of thousands of workers have been left on the streets due to lack of activity.
“With the United States constantly increasing sanctions and pressures, and with the failure of other world powers to provide guarantees for the economic benefits of the JCPOA, Iran’s patience is running out,” warned Hossein Mousavian, an Iranian analyst and former spokesman for the nuclear negotiating team when he was led by today’s President Rouhani, in an article on Monday. In his opinion, Tehran has only two options: “a gradual withdrawal of the JCPOA or an immediate exit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the JCPOA simultaneously”.
Mousavian, who is currently a visiting researcher at Princeton University (USA), warns of the consequences of the latter and is inclined towards the former. This seems to be the choice finally made by the Iranian government.