US-Iran relations have always been complex, but they are likely to become more so due to President Donald Trump’s opposition to the nuclear deal. The issue becomes all the more important at a time when they may need to cooperate in their fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq.
The nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed on July 14, 2015, after protracted negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — China, France, Russia, the UK and US — plus Germany.
The deal set a framework that looked more or less acceptable to all sides, but its opponents in the US and Iran did not wait long to point at various discrepancies. A rule in international relations says the longest-lasting deals are usually those that make all parties equally unhappy. We may therefore hope the deal outlives the Trump presidency.
Scrapping it was top of his to-do list during his election campaign. Referring to Iran’s frozen assets that would be released due to the deal, he said: “Allowing access to billions of dollars in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program is not in America’s or the world’s interests.” Negative reactions to this attitude poured in from the capitals of all other parties to the deal.
Trump must have later realized the difficulty of translating into action all his election promises. He softened his rhetoric during his telephone call with Saudi King Salman, when he spoke of “the strict implementation of all provisions of the deal” rather than scrapping it.
The deal limits the number of centrifuges to be deployed in the next 10 years, and the level of enriched uranium under 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. The stockpile of enriched uranium will be kept under 300kg. Iran has abided by these and many other scrupulously worded restrictions, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recognized its full compliance.
President Hassan Rouhani promised during his election campaign in 2013 to open up Iran’s economy. He may maintain the same promise while campaigning for presidential elections due to be held in May. Improvement in Iran’s economy will bring more votes to any political contender. It would be wise to let the public reap the benefits.
Iran is in no hurry to resume its nuclear program because since it has already acquired nuclear technology, it can do so at any time in the future if it becomes necessary. Trump, for his part, does not need to stick to his initial promise of undoing the deal because there are several unrelated means the US can use unilaterally if it wishes to make life difficult for Iran.
For instance, UN Security Council Resolution 2231 abolished all punitive measures imposed on Iran, but unilateral US sanctions blocking Tehran’s access to the international banking system are still in place. These sanctions are outside the scope of the JCPOA. They were imposed by Washington due to Tehran’s support for terrorist groups.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with its 125,000 soldiers, is part of Iran’s army and is tasked by the constitution with protecting the country’s Islamic system. As well as its military activities, the IRGC is a vast conglomerate involved in missile batteries, oil, gas, petrochemical industries and nuclear programs.
It controls multibillion-dollar businesses in all sectors. Its annual income is estimated at $12 billion in business and construction. Such a big economic actor has business relations with all financial institutions in the country.
The US considers the IRGC a terrorist organization, so international financial institutions are worried that they may face sanctions if they do business with Iranian banks that deal with the IRGC. After the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, then-President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry tried to reassure international banks they could do business with Iranian banks, but this verbal reassurance did not dispel their worry.
They asked for a clear guarantee that they would not be sanctioned. Despite the positive approach of Obama and Kerry, the question is still hanging because of the US Treasury Department’s unclear attitude. The irony is that international financial institutions face problems because of US sanctions against the IRGC, but it is the strongest force inflicting losses on Daesh in Syria and Iraq.