By Kelsey Davenport*
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated unequivocally after a ministerial meeting between the P5+1 (China, France Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran that all parties agreed that the nuclear deal is being fully implemented and there are no violations.
She said that the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is delivering on its purpose, and there is “no need to renegotiate parts of the agreement.” Mogherini said that issues outside the scope of the deal should be “tackled in different formats, in different fora.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participated in the ministerial meeting and told press after it concluded that Iran is in “technical compliance with the agreement,” but that Trump still has concerns about enforcement of the deal and the thoroughness of the agreement.
The Sept. 20 ministerial meeting took place on the sidelines of the opening of the UN General Assembly meeting, where U.S. President Donald Trump called the nuclear deal with Iran one of the “worst and most one-sided transactions” and an “embarrassment to the United States” in his Sept. 19 speech.
Trump did not mention if he will issue a certification to Congress tied to the nuclear deal Oct. 15, but said Washington cannot abide by an agreement if it “provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.”
Trump later told reporters on Sept. 20 that he had made a decision on certification, but did not say what his decision is. While withholding certification does not violate the JCPOA, it opens the door for Congress to reimpose sanctions waived under the agreement on an expedited schedule. Past remarks indicate Trump wants to withhold the certification, despite international support for the deal and Iran’s compliance with the accord, which U.S. officials have also affirmed.
The day after Trump’s UN speech, General John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, said that Iran is operating under the restrictions of the JCPOA and when the United States signs an agreement “its our jobs to live up to the terms of the agreement and our jobs to enforce that.”
Hyten, speaking Sept. 20 at the Hudson Institute, did raise concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile activity, which is not covered by the deal, but limited by the UN Security Council Resolution endorsing the agreement.
Washington’s negotiating partners used time at the UN General Assembly to urge full implementation of the nuclear deal. French President Emmanuel Macron made a strong case for preserving the deal in his Sept. 19 speech at the UN General Assembly, noting that it is “essential to peace” and “not respecting the Iran deal would be irresponsible.”
Later that day, in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Macron said it would be a “big mistake” for Trump to stop the deal. He said he would try and convince Trump to work cooperatively to build on the nuclear deal to address issues like ballistic missiles.
British Prime Minister Theresa May also brought up the nuclear deal in a Sept. 20 bilateral meeting with Trump and reiterated the UK’s “strong commitment to the deal” and its vital importance to regional security.
International support for the deal played heavily in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s address to the UN Sept. 20. Rouhani said that, given the multilateral nature of the deal and the Security Council’s endorsement of the agreement, “it belongs to the international community.” Rouhani said that the deal can be a “new model for global interactions, based on mutual constructive engagement.”
Rouhani said that Iran “will not be the first country to violate the agreement but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.” He said it would be a “great pity” if the deal were “destroyed by rouge newcomers to the world of politics.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unsurprisingly, followed Trump’s critical line and described Israel’s policy on the nuclear deal as “fix it or nix it.” He said Sept. 10 that fixing the deal means inspecting military sites and “getting rid of the sunset clause.”
The so-called sunset provisions were also raised by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as “kicking the can down the road.” Tillerson said Sept. 20 if Washington is going to stick with the Iran deal, there has to be changes to those areas.
Tillerson and Netanyahu are right; some restrictions do expire within 10-25 years, but other restrictions that act as barriers to nuclear weapons are permanent. And any attempt to extend restrictions requires stabilizing and sustaining the current deal, not scrapping it and trying to renegotiate a new agreement.
*The writer is director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association. This article first appeared on September 21, 2017.