By bne IntelliNews
With Donald Trump due to announce on May 8 (at 14:00 Washington, DC-time) if he is keeping the US in the Iran nuclear deal, discussions have already turned to whether the accord could be preserved without American participation.
It is not a given that the US president will definitively pull Washington out of the agreement—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—as he stated last week that his antipathy to the deal “doesn’t mean I wouldn’t negotiate a new agreement”, but given other recent comments made by Trump of late, such as calling the JCPOA “insane”, nobody is going to be criticised for assuming the worst.
On May 7, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran could remain in the JCPOA even if the US dropped out if its interests were guaranteed by the deal’s non-American signatories, Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Those signatories—the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China—are all absolutely against scrapping the nuclear deal and in the past two weeks French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have individually visited Washington to urge the preservation of the agreement. Unlike Macron and Merkel, Johnson did not meet Trump but in May 7 appearances on Trump’s favourite TV channel, Fox, he pointed out that it would be wrongheaded to walk out on the deal when there is nothing better to put in its place.
“Are we seriously saying we will bomb?”
The accord shields Iran’s vital oil exports and other essential parts of its economy from crippling sanctions in return for measures designed to stop Tehran moving towards the development of a nuclear weapon and, following a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Johnson questioned what the US plan would be if Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal and the Iranians moved to restart nuclear facilities, saying: “We gotta fix the flaws in the deal, and one of these clauses is the sunset clause which will finish in 2025 [allowing Iran to restart a limited amount of nuclear programme activities]. You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, because if you do that then what next, what if the Iranians do develop a nuclear weapon… Are we seriously saying that we will bomb those facilities … is that really a realistic possibility?” Johnson asked.
He also told the Fox & Friends programme: “If they do get a nuclear weapon, you’re going to get an arms race in the Middle East. You’re going to have the Saudis wanting one, the Egyptians wanting one, the Emiratis. It’s already a very, very dangerous state at the moment, we don’t want to go down that road. There doesn’t seem to me at the moment to be a viable military solution.”
Expanding on how the deal could remain alive without US participation, Rouhani reportedly said: “If we can get what we want from a deal without America, then Iran will continue to remain committed to the deal. What Iran wants is our interests to be guaranteed by its non-American signatories… In that case, getting rid of America’s mischievous presence will be fine for Iran.”
“If they want to make sure that we are not after a nuclear bomb, we have said repeatedly that we are not and we will not be,” said Rouhani, who helped negotiate the nuclear accord—which was 10 years in the making—to ease Iran’s isolation. “But if they want to weaken Iran and limit its influence whether in the region or globally, Iran will fiercely resist.”
In a speech on live TV, Rouhani, a pragmatic, centrist president who may, after an initial display of Iranian unity, be more exposed to attacks from hardliners if the nuclear deal unravels, also remarked: “We are not worried about America’s cruel decisions… We are prepared for all scenarios and no change will occur in our lives next week [if Trump withdraws the US from the deal].”
“No justifiable reason”
Trump has said he wants “disastrous flaws” in the JCPOA rectified. He is unhappy the deal has no influence over Iran’s political and military activities in the conflict-torn Middle East or the development of the Iranian ballistic missile programme.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has indicated the world would be less safe without the JCPOA, with which the non-American signatories and the UN nuclear inspection authority say Iran is in full compliance. “We don’t think there is any justifiable reason to pull out of this agreement and we continue to make a case for it to our American friends,” Maas said during a joint news conference with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
He added that France and Germany will acknowledge the US decision on JCPOA participation but will stick the to the agreement in its present form. The UK too has made such a commitment.
“We are determined to save this deal because this accord safeguards against nuclear proliferation and is the right way to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon,” Le Drian added.
A move by Trump to take the US out of the nuclear deal would likely involve reintroducing heavy sanctions against Iran and secondary sanctions against foreign traders and investors who pursued business with the Iranians. While many European and other non-American companies might desire to continue with investments in Iran under a JCPOA that no longer involved the US, the number that could realistically do so would be greatly reduced by the fact that a great number of enterprises investing in Iran would leave assets in the US, or linked to the US, exposed to penalties. One such company is French energy major Total. It has already said it would have to review its multi-billion-dollar gas and petrochemical investment openings and commitments in Iran if the US set its face against the company pursuing activities in the country.
Days of late have also seen analysts pore over what options Iran has for responding to the US exiting the JCPOA. The obvious, and highly risky, route would be to restart uranium enrichment programmes banned under the accord, but a less obvious response could be seen in Iraq. May 12 brings parliamentary elections in Iraq and, if Iran succeeds in building a loyal political coalition that takes power in Baghdad, the consequent government could move to eject US troops from Iraqi territory.