U.S. President Donald Trump declared on May 8 that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and impose the highest level of economic sanctions on Iran and added, “any nation that helps Iran and its quest for nuclear weapons could also be sanctioned”.
The deal - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - was signed in July 2015 by Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States, plus Germany. It limits the number of centrifuges Iran can deploy in the next 10 years, and the level of enriched uranium it produces to below 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. Tehran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be kept under 300 kg.
Trump said what the called the defective 2015 agreement would not stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb. He therefore disregarded the fact that the JCPOA banned Iran from resuming uranium enrichment programme as long as the agreement was in force and that it would be entitled to resume enrichment should the agreement be abolished.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded immediately, saying that Iran would stay in the deal for now, but was prepared to return to enriching uranium if its interests were not preserved. Iran’s interests will be harmed if its right to resume its nuclear programme is denied while the United States continues to impose sanctions.
The European signatories of the deal issued a joint statement that acknowledges their failure to persuade Trump of the wisdom of maintaining the deal. It reads: “Our governments remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld”. This attitude of the European leaders does not bring any relief to the victimisation of Iran.
As expected, Israel and the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, jubilantly welcomed Trump’s decision.
Economic sanctions will definitely have negative effects on Iran’s economy. However, a country the size of Iran, possessing rich oil and gas reserves, having direct access to the oceans and common borders with big economies such as Turkey, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Iraq and, through the sea, Russia and India, will find ways to resist. U.S. sanctions, in the past, negatively affected Iran’s economy, but the Iranian people proved their resilience to them.
Probably many countries will refrain from abiding by the U.S. sanctions. Third country companies with no economic relations with the United States will capitalise on the opportunities created by the absence of companies abiding by the sanctions.
Turkey will be one of the countries that will be negatively affected from the sanctions as it has a border with Iran and has a trade volume of about $10 billion.
There is nothing wrong in withdrawing from a multilateral agreement, but imposing sanctions on the companies of the third countries is a measure more difficult to justify and it will render Washington’s relations with them more difficult for a reason that has nothing to do with their relations with Iran.
As long as Iran has the nuclear technology, it will use it unless a mutually agreed compromise is reached. Destroying the facilities where uranium is being enriched is not an option, because Iran may build the facilities deeper underground so that the destruction becomes more difficult or almost impossible.
Washington could achieve most of what it wanted without withdrawing from the JCPOA, because there are other U.S. sanctions, unrelated to JCPOA, imposed on Iran due Washington’s claims of Tehran’s support for terrorist groups. By withdrawing from the nuclear deal Washington gave Teheran an excuse to resume its nuclear programme. The United States adopted a similar attitude in 2010 when Turkey and Brazil mediated to stop Iran’s nuclear programme.
The enrichment level of uranium was 3 percent at that time. The United States rejected Turkey-Brazil proposal, but had to sign the present agreement in 2015 when the level of enrichment had reached 18 percent. If Iran decides to resume its enrichment programme, this time it may reach a higher level by the time it signs a new agreement. Washington made a wrong assessment in 2010. Now it has repeated the same mistake.