Nephew: EU opposed to US withdrawal from JCPOA

Iranian Diplomacy- Richard Nephew says: “The JCPOA agreement cannot stand if the United States reimposes sanctions and removes the main benefit to Iran from having concluded the agreement in the first place.

Referring to the recent positions of French, British, and German governments on Iran, Bloomberg has written that the Europeans have intensified pressures on Iran for its missile program, hoping to keep the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement between Iran and the five world powers. An analysis of the situation by Reuters following the Trump ultimatum on the JCPOA also indicates that European countries signatory to the agreement have begun talks on Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional influence in an effort to safeguard the JCPOA.

On the other hand, Deputy for Legal and International Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, has stressed: “We have not had any discussions with any countries about our missile program, nor do we intend to have such discussions.” He has added: “There are those on the Continent who believe they can convince Trump to stay in the deal by agreeing with him on other non-nuclear issues. This idea is totally wrong and will certainly backfire.”

Persia Digest has conducted an interview on the future of the Iran nuclear deal with Richard Nephew, a nonresident senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program and affiliated with the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative housed within the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence.

You can read the interview here:

Are recent events an indication that European resistance in support of the JCPOA against Trump’s stance is wavering?

No, I don’t see that. I think that many Europeans are as concerned with the destabilizing risks of Iran’s further missile development program (which is the most aggressive development program in the region) as the United States and other countries in the region. So, if they are interested in seeking solutions to this problem, it is for their own interests, not just managing the United States.

But, I do also think that there is a sense in Europe that, if they can do enough to persuade Trump that there is value in the JCPOA and that other problems can also be solved, this will protect the JCPOA.  They may well be right, though it is impossible to know now.

Regional issues and Iran’s missile program are not linked to the JCPOA. In this case, what does imposing EU sanctions against Iran for these two reasons (for Iran’s reluctance to negotiate these two issues) mean? Is Europe making a mistake, as Mr Araghchi has pointed out, and will it backfire?

It certainly could backfire but two things are worth noting: first, the JCPOA was not intended to address those problems but nor was it intended to pretend that they don’t exist.

Second, Iran received the benefits of the JCPOA because of nuclear steps taken; the United States and its partners received the benefits of the nuclear steps taken because of sanctions relief.  That was the deal.  It is not correct to suggest that one of the benefits Iran received was no one being interested in regional or missile issues.  We simply set it aside for purposes of concluding the agreement.  Iran may not like it, but these are concerns held by more than just the United States or Europe.  And, if Iran truly wishes to change its relationship with the outside world, it would be in its interest to consider how to address those concerns, not dismiss them.

Supposing Iran accepts to negotiate its missile program and regional issues, will this satisfy Trump to stay in the deal? Does this mean that the US can threaten Iran and the world with the JCPOA every time, to impose his own will on Iran from now on?

It may. It may not. This is, of course, the risk of conceding to a position of brinksmanship, something that has been noted in many different crises. However, at some point, it is important for every country to step back and consider clearly its own interests.  Is it more in Iran’s interest to stay in the JCPOA, resolve other problems, and deal with the sense that it had to back down to the United States? Or, is it more in Iran’s interest to not deal with this sense of concession, but be without the JCPOA and facing the same problems now? The same applies to Europe. This is a hard question to answer, but it is the question that diplomats and officials have to answer every day.

In your opinion, if Iran and Europe cannot agree on Iran’s missile program and new sanctions are imposed on Iran by Europe on the one hand, and the US leaves the JCPOA on the other, where is this multilateral agreement headed?

In that case, I would expect the agreement to collapse. The agreement cannot stand if the United States reimposes sanctions and removes the main benefit to Iran from having concluded the agreement in the first place.

If the JCPOA is destroyed, what do you predict Iran’s response, and subsequent reactions by Europe and the US will be?

The answer really depends on the context, but if we assume that the JCPOA is destroyed because of a decision by Trump to withdraw, then I think it is reasonable to predict that Iran would restart its nuclear program, but possibly slowly, while seeking support from Europe and the rest of the world in condemning the United States. I think that Europe would strongly oppose a U.S. decision to withdraw from the JCPOA.

About Richard Nephew: From 2013 to 2015, Nephew served as the principal deputy for inaugural Coordinator for Sanctions Policy Dan Fried at the U.S. State Department. During this period, Nephew also served as the lead sanctions expert for the U.S. team negotiating with Iran from August 2013 to December 2014. From 2011 to 2013, Nephew was a director for Iran at the National Security Council (NSC), where he was responsible for the development and execution of the U.S. sanctions strategy toward Iran, as well as for the nuclear negotiations. While at the NSC, Nephew supervised a dramatic expansion of U.S. and foreign sanctions against Iran, including through the development and implementation of six new executive orders signed by President Obama during Nephew’s tenure.