At this year’s annual General Assembly gathering, Iranian officials have seized the moment to air their growing complaints of American inaction with respect to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It is now some eight months since the JCPOA went into its implementation phase and, by all indications, this has been a lop-sided process, with firm Iranian compliance and serious evidence of non-compliance by the US.
No surprise then that both President Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Javad Zarif have used the occasion of their UN trip to lash out at the US for its lack “any serious effort” to implement the JCPOA, to paraphrase Zarif at his speech at the Council For Foreign Relations in New York. In his UN speech, Rouhani lambasted the US’s non-compliance and warned of the international backlash against the US if it chooses in the (near) future to disregard its obligations under an international agreement.
Clearly, Rouhani’s warning was a message to, among others, the Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who has promised to scrap the JCPOA once in the White House. Even Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival, has been rather tepid in her support for the JCPOA, which has been under relentless Israeli criticism since it was inked last Summer. As a result, the prospects for the JCPOA do not seem to be particularly bright, despite flashes of optimism sparked by the news of commercial jets’ sales to Iran by Airbus and Boeing (yet to be finalized, given the Congressional opposition).
Intent on salvaging the JCPOA, the Iranian officials have met their negotiation counterparts in the “Iran six” nations on the sideline of the General Assembly summit, hoping to procure some meaningful concessions, particularly in the realm of banking and Iran’s access to the global financial institutions. In light of the robust “primary Iran sanctions” still in place in US legislation, it is unlikely to see any major breakthrough — that requires significant legislative initiatives in US Congress to lift the existing Iran sanctions. Instead, over the past year or so, the US Congress has gone the opposite direction, paving the way for successful law suits against Iran by victims of terrorism, an issue condemned by Rouhani in his UN speech.
Chances are, however, that Washington does not altogether ignore Iran’s loud complaint and the Obama administration will wake up from its slumber and try to salvage its legacy of the nuclear deal with Iran by taking some concrete proactive actions. Certainly, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s praise of Iran’s full compliance with the JCPOA in his presentation at the UN Security Council was meant to send a positive signal to Iran by the outgoing Obama administration, which is at the same time cozying to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after a period of open rift over Iran. The problem, however, is that Kerry does not seem to always reflect the dominant thinking in the White House, nor is there any serious evidence yet that the Americans are determined to fully address Iran’s complaints. Only time will tell the latter.