As tensions continue around the Iran nuclear deal, a big thank you to CND Vice-Chair Tom Unterrainer for sharing his analysis – in this guest blog – of two recent decisions that return the spotlight to Iran and the nuclear weapon question in the Middle East.
“First, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) blocked attempts by the US to ‘snapback’ all sanctions against Iran that were lifted following agreement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) – or, Iran Deal – in 2015. The ‘E3′ members of the JCPoA – France, Germany and the United Kingdom – were amongst those who opposed the attempt. They noted in a public statement “that the US ceased to be a participant to the JCPoA following their withdrawal from the deal on 8 May, 2018 … We cannot therefore support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPoA.”
In response, a US envoy accused the UNSC of “standing in the company of terrorists”.
Second, Iran has granted the International Atomic Energy Agency access to two sites which the US and Israeli governments claim are connected to secret nuclear material and activity. Permission to access these sites is a major step forward following events at the start of 2020 and more recent incidents.
The assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, January 2020, emphasised that the Trump administration regards Iran as a target and that it is prepared to take reckless actions. The situation could easily have spiralled out of control if not for a degree of political and military restraint on the part of the Iranian government.
Some commentators warned that this event might trigger the start of a ‘nuclear arms race’ in the Middle East. The Iranian government are fully aware that both Iraq and Libya renounced their nuclear weapons programmes and that following this, both countries faced onslaught from the US military. The twisted ‘logic’ of nuclear deterrence suggests that possession of a nuclear weapons capability ensures against such a prospect.
Substantiation for such a risk was provided by the Iranian government itself, when two days after the killing it announced that it would no longer abide by any of the constraints or limitations on nuclear enrichment contained in the JCPoA. The US, which had withdrawn from the JCPoA alleging Iranian breaches despite confirmation from IAEA inspectors that Iran was abiding by the rules, intensified lobbying for a sanctions ‘snapback’ from this point.
Despite US pressure, other parties to the JCPoA continued to work within the framework of the agreement. Following Iran’s statement of intent, the E3 triggered a ‘dispute resolution mechanism’ which, if not for ongoing diplomatic flexibility on the part of the Iranians, could have forced the complete collapse of the JCPoA. Some analysts have suggested that this was the intent of at least one E3 leader, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. However, the JCPoA framework has not collapsed and Iran continues to engage. For serious progress to be made and for the JCPoA to endure, other parties will have to offer Iran serious incentives rather than threats of tightening sanctions or further aggression.
Events such as those at the Natanz nuclear facility in July this year will not have bolstered confidence in a diplomatic solution. It was initially feared that the explosion at the facility resulted from a missile strike, but more recently Iranian officials pinpointed the cause as an act of sabotage. The source and inspiration of the sabotage has not yet been revealed.
Whilst we should hope that progress is maintained and support all diplomatic efforts to avert the breakdown of the JCPoA, we should remain alert to the risks of further unilateral action by the United States. The US ‘envoy’ who ‘undiplomatically’ characterised the United Nations Security Council of standing with terrorists is none other than Elliott Abrams, ‘U.S. special envoy to Iran’.
Abrams was characterised in The Nation magazine as having a career “literally built on the defense of mass murder and genocide and his willingness to lie on behalf of those who carried it out and smear the reputations of anyone who sought to try and stop or expose it.” This quote refers directly to Abrams’ dealings in Central America in the 1980s. That’s a deeply concerning résumé for someone tasked with representing US interests anywhere, let alone in Iran, and points to the aggressive posture adopted by the US.
The weeks running up to the US Presidential election will likely see Trump making unpredictable and potentially disastrous decisions in an attempt to distract from the multiple failures of his government and to mobilise opinion behind him. We should not discount the possibility that one such decision could include military action. If it does, then the fact that Iran is already in the cross-hairs should put the peace and anti-war movements on the alert.”