The main obstacles to the revival of the JCPOA are the deep-rooted disagreements between Iran and the US over regional and international politics. The JCPOA was never supposed to be an end in itself. It was always viewed to be a first step toward a process of resolving US-Iran disputes over regional issues. This is still the objective. Meanwhile, regional states, especially Israel and the Persian Gulf Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE were against the agreement, especially if Iran did not agree to reconsider some of its regional policies.
The purpose of sanctions had always been to pressure Iran into changing its external behavior, including stopping its animosity towards the US and its regional allies. Failing that, sanctions were to cause severe economic problems for Iran and thus create social and political unrest. In the immediate future, the US is unwilling to provide Iran with economic relief, because it fears that Tehran would use the extra cash to increase, what the US sees, as its destabilizing regional activities and spend the money on helping its regional allies.
Trump imposed many extra sanctions on Iran partly to make the revival of the JCPOA difficult. However, the issue of the IRGC is not merely symbolic. The US, and some regional countries, see the IRGC as the main instrument of Iran’s so-called destabilizing activities and its efforts to weaken America’s position in the Middle East.
The fact is that Israel has considerable influence in determining the US and European policy towards the Middle East and Iran. As long as Iran-Israel hostility and competition continues, Tel Aviv will do what it can to pressure Iran directly and indirectly. Unfortunately, there are many contradictions and double standards in international relations.
The real problems are fundamental. But, the more immediate obstacles seem to be Iran’s insistence on assurances that the US would not leave the JCPOA again, at least for the remainder of Biden’s presidency and the delisting of the IRGC of the terror list. As the experience of the past several years has shown, other players cannot solve the problem, which is basically between Iran and the US. Other players can cause problems, as Russia and France did at some stages. But they cannot rescue the deal.
Certainly, the Iran hawks would argue that Trump was right to leave the deal. But, under current political circumstances in the US the issue of Iran and the JCPOA is not a priority for Washington. Despite alarmist statements about how quickly Iran can develop a nuclear device, the fact is that Iran faces serious limitations on the way of creating a credible nuclear deterrence. Now, Iran is facing increasing threats of sabotage in its military and scientific facilities.
The Ukraine crisis has certainly affected the Vienna talks adversely. First, Russia does not want Iran’s oil and gas to flow into global markets. Moscow might have advised Tehran to be less flexible. In general Moscow has never wanted improvement in Iran-West relations. Second, the rising energy prices has improved the bargaining position of Saudi Arabia and the UAE as evidenced by efforts of reconciliation between Washington and Riyadh and AbuDhabi. The price of Saudi willingness to increase oil production could be the abandonment of the JCPOA.
Finally, the issue of the JCPOA is deeply intertwined with Iran’s broaders problems with the West. It is difficult to compartmentalize foreign policy, in general. This is true of Iran. The fact is that Iran cannot get total sanctions relief without addressing broader issues beyond the JCPOA.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of ICDT.