American media reported recently that the United States intends to return to the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in order to maintain its right to vote to be able to extend a UN arms embargo on Iran that expires on October 18, 2020 based on the JCPOA. In 2018, the US withdrew from the nuclear deal Iran signed with five world powers and accordingly imposed secondary sanctions on Iran, including a ban on the Islamic Republic’s oil sales. In response, Iran scaled down its commitments under the JCPOA in five stages. Now Iran hopes that Russia and China would support the Islamic Republic at the UN Security Council, where the US is trying to extend arms embargo against Iran.
Mehdi Motaharnia has, in an interview with Khabar Online, weighed in on these developments. Highlights of the interview follow.
How do you see the United States’ decision to return to the JCPOA? Can it be interpreted as a legal move or a political one? And if Washington succeeds, how would China and Russia act?
To that end, the United States has begun making efforts to set up a meaningful legal system accepted by international authorities. The US will face key challenges in this path such as opposition from China and Russia; however, the fact remains that international developments keep unfolding and statesmen of major powers need each other, including the US as the only remaining superpower from the cold war, which will see Iran left alone because world powers are involved in their wheeling and dealing. Meanwhile, the fact that Iran is pinning its hopes on China and Russia and seeking to create an appropriate regional climate to put pressure on the US will not be effective and acceptable under the current circumstances.
On the other hand, Washington will incur restrictive challenges through obstacles such as rivalry with the EU, competition with China and Russia in areas under control, and various frictions. Naturally, if the sharp edges of these challenges, on both fronts of agreement with, and opposition to the US, lead to a determining outcome to shape the future international order, that could trigger ripples which would further escalate and spread violence and conflict on the regional and international stage.
Moreover, although Russia and China express their support for Iran in word, and Moscow explicitly speaks of weapons sales to Iran when the UN arms embargo on the Islamic Republic expires, it goes without saying that both the Kremlin and Beijing prioritize their own interests. Accordingly, the Russians have announced time and again that they are seeking to create an atmosphere where they would regard Iran as a strategic partner. The point is that the Russians have never been able to show their honesty and sincerity.
Why have the Russians not been honest with Iran?
Their failure to complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant, disregarding Iran in Syria, failure to cooperate with Iran in Bosnia and Herzegovina, seeking to restrict Iran in Afghanistan, all bear testament to that. Furthermore, Russia has always tried to use Iran as a bargaining chip to get scores from the United States.
And how about China?
The same thing goes for China. More importantly, China and Russia are classified as part of the colony of major world powers. Accordingly, as they somehow worked with the US to bring Iran to the negotiating table during the talks over the JCPOA, they will once again try to set the stage by getting more concessions to act in coordination with the US in putting pressure on Iran. Naturally and based on the standards of Russia’s strategic science, they cannot be strategic partners for Iran because such friendship makes sense only based on Russian interests on the regional and international stage against the backdrop of conflict between Tehran and Washington. We can specifically track this over the past four decades in Moscow’s behaviour and political stance vis-à-vis Tehran.
With that in mind, can we say the United States will relatively achieve its objective in October (the time when the UN arms embargo on Iran expires)?
If the United States manages to pull off its plan and extend UN sanctions on Iran, we can say that Iran’s staying in the JCPOA will be pointless, but we should bear in mind that even right now the nuclear deal is no more than a dead body. The JCPOA, which Iran said would set fire to if the US withdrew from it, has now reached a point where Trump has torn it up. This comes as Iran is still speaking of the JCPOA. Iran was supposed to pulled out of the agreement gradually. Now, a few months after Iran went through the fifth stage of scaling down its commitments under the JCPOA, the logic behind Iran’s gradual pullout from the deal has been sidelined as well.
Due to these circumstances, Iran has been unable to lay the body of the JCPOA to rest. The reason is that holding a funeral for the JCPOA will, at least psychologically speaking, affect the country’s economy and might deal another blow to the current shaky economic situation, which, if not controlled, will be able to bring about serious economic hazards and, for that matter, social and political consequences. The bells which began to sound in November 2019 still have not stopped ringing, though some are trying to turn down the volume or to make the sound drowned out by other voices. Therefore, not only in Iran but also in other countries, if the economic situation is unable to meet nations’ needs through the coronavirus epidemic and to offset the blow dealt to the lives of nations by the virus, it could naturally bring about numerous repercussions for countries and governments. We should wait and see how events will unfold. And if we attribute current developments to foreigners and others, such an approach will turn into a rehash of the same old thing and a cliché in the court of public opinion.