By: Mohammad Reza Mousavi
With the failed efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, the only option other than a military confrontation seems to be new negotiations aimed at a new nuclear deal.
It took years of negotiations between a Democratic administration in the United States and a moderate one in Iran to achieve a nuclear deal that they could point to as a high-profile feat, but it took President Trump only a tediously long signature to scrap it. Five years after that day, Iran’s enrichment tops 60% instead of a meager 3.67%, the JCPOA is taking its last breath, and both Iran and the United States seem to have no Plan B despite the looming crisis.
Why is there a need for a nuclear deal? According to the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, Iran has accumulated 87.5 kg of 60% enriched uranium in addition to tons of lower purity uranium. This stockpile, as the IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi put it, is enough for “several bombs.” Recently, even traces of “near bomb-grade” enrichment were spotted by the IAEA in two cascades in Iran’s Fordow enrichment plant. There is almost no doubt that Iran has no immediate use for the existing amount of enriched uranium, and the advancements Iran made were originally pursued as a leverage against West’s pressure. From an optimistic point of view, Iran won’t build the nukes because of the religious ban on production and possession of WMDs. This analysis emphasizes the religious role of Iran’s leadership among Shias which would be devastated should Iran decide to take measures contrary to this fatwa. But what if a military coup d’état happens after the death of the current Supreme Leader? The ambiguity triggered by that scenario is what no one wants to think about.
Why a new nuclear deal? Because the JCPOA is already defunct. The nuclear deal was designed based on a one-year breakout time for Iran’s nuclear program: that is, in case Iran decided to go rogue and build the bomb, it would take it one year to produce sufficient material for a single bomb. However, thanks to President Trump, Iran’s nuclear enrichment has advanced so much that with the new centrifuges and manufacturing knowledge, even if Iran agrees to destroy them all, it is unlikely that the breakout time can be stretched to a year. Moreover, Saudi Arabia was one of the critics of a nuclear deal with Iran, because, among other reasons, it didn’t cover Iran’s regional activities. Now that Iran is taking measures for détente with Saudi Arabia, the chances for a better longevity of a deal are showing. On the other hand, the current hardline administration in Iran tries to keep away from the legacy of the previous moderate administration so much that they don’t even call the JCPOA by its name. This administration is highly under pressure for Iran’s dire economic conditions and will be beyond happy to showcase its own achievement in Iran’s political stage.
Why negotiate with Iran at all? Both the Iranian émigré opposition and the Republicans frown at the thought of negotiating with the Islamic Republic, especially after the wave of protests that started with the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s brutal morality police. The core of their argument respectively is that lifting the sanctions will finance Iran’s regime, allowing the government to suppress the protestors and regrow Iran’s regional activities. But what is neglected is that Iran’s nuclear agreement was originally designed to lift nuclear-related sanctions, and the sanctions tagged with human rights and terrorism were not supposed to be lifted in the first place. Ordinary people are the main victims of the sanctions. Negotiating with Iran was not an endorsement of its regional activities, nor did it mean rapprochement between the United States and Iran. Therefore, a nuclear deal can allay security concerns in the Middle East, lift sanctions that are taking a humanitarian toll on the Iranian people, and allow pressure to stop brutal crackdown of Iranian protestors to continue.
Now that Europe is trying to extinguish the fire of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the US-China rivalry is on its way to the critical point, the world can’t tolerate another crisis, especially in the Middle East. The status quo is not sustainable and sooner or later is expected to change; considering the security uncertainties between Iran and Israel, that change will likely be for the worse. The current time may be one of the last opportunities to prevent a catastrophe, if not the last one.
About the Author
Mohammad Reza Mousavi is a student of Executive master’s degree in diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University and he is expected to graduate in December 2023. He is an Iranian journalist who covered most of Iran’s nuclear negotiations.