The problem that Trump administration faces is if the US unilaterally breaks away from JCPOA, its European partners are unlikely to stand by the US.
By Ravi Joshi*
Last week, US President Donald Trump certified, for the second time in the last six months, Iran’s compliance with the Nuclear Deal, despite his intense hatred for the Iranian regime and the deal that he had promised ‘to kill’ as soon as he came to power. This was after a 45 minute meeting with his top foreign and security policy advisers who couldn’t find any fault with Iran on its compliance. Trump came into the meeting clearly declaring his intent not to recertify but had to swallow his pride and act on the advice of his team. He left the meeting telling his advisers that this was the last time he was going to certify and they better find some violations by Iran. The certification is required to be done by the President every three months before the Congress can take up a total review of the deal and re-impose fresh sanctions on Tehran.
The important point is that President Trump was doing no favour to Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the only body that is authorised to monitor, verify and detect violations, if any by Iran’s nuclear agencies, had already given a clean chit to Tehran last month and there was nothing the US State Department, the Pentagon or the Department of Energy could do to pander to Trump’s whims and fancies.
It is instructive to know what the DG, IAEA informed the Board of Governors in his report dated 2 June 2017 on ‘Verification and Monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of UNSC resolution 2231 (2015).’ The UNSC had passed this resolution subsequent to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China and Russia + Germany) on 14 July 2015.
Here are some of the highlights of the IAEA report:
- Iran has not pursued the construction of the Arak heavy water research reactor (IR-40 Reactor) based on its original design.
- Iran has not carried out activities related to reprocessing at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).
- At the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz, there have been no more than 5060 IR-1 centrifuges installed in 30 cascades, which remain in the configurations in the operating units at the time the JCPOA was agreed.
- Iran has continued the enrichment of UF6 at FEP. Iran has not enriched uranium above 3.67% U-235.
- On 27 May 2017, the Agency verified that Iran had down-blended to the level of natural uranium the 35.7 kg of uranium in the form of UO2 enriched up to 3.67% U-235.
- Throughout the reporting period, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile has not exceeded 300 kg of UF6 enriched up to 3.67% U-235. The quantity of 300 kg of UF6 corresponds to 202.8 kg of uranium.
- At the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), 1044 IR-1 centrifuges have been maintained in one wing of the facility, of which 1042 IR-1 centrifuges have remained installed in six cascades and two IR-1 centrifuges have remained installed separately for the purpose of conducting “initial research and R&D activities related to stable isotope production”. Throughout the reporting period, Iran has not conducted any uranium enrichment or related research and development (R&D) activities, and there has not been any nuclear material at the plant.
- All centrifuges and associated infrastructure in storage have remained under continuous Agency monitoring. The Agency has also continued to have regular access to FFEP, including daily access upon Agency request.
- No enriched uranium has been accumulated through enrichment R&D activities, and Iran’s enrichment R&D with and without uranium has been conducted using centrifuges within the limits defined in the JCPOA.
- Iran has not produced any IR-1 centrifuges to replace those that have been damaged or failed.
- Iran has continued to permit the agency to use online enrichment monitors and electronic seals which communicate their status within nuclear sites to Agency inspectors, and to facilitate the automated collection of Agency measurement recordings registered by installed measurement devices.
- Iran has continued to permit the Agency to monitor — through measures agreed with Iran, including containment and surveillance measures — that all uranium ore concentrate (UOC) produced in Iran or obtained from any other source is transferred to the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) at Esfahan.
With such an exhaustive and emphatic certification of Iran’s compliance of its nuclear activities by the UN mandated body, there was little that President Trump’s advisers could do to convince him otherwise. Now they will have tough time to find loopholes in Iran’s nuclear activities by the next certification cycle coming up in early October.
So it is now argued in Washington that they have to find ways to push Iran to break the Deal with the P5+1, for that’s the only way the European partners would support the US in punishing Iran. But Iran seems to be in no hurry to do so.
Then what was the hurry for India to antagonise Tehran. Why was India so eager to please President Trump, when his own advisers failed to do so? On 26 March, our NSA Ajit Doval went to the US and met his new counterpart H R McMaster and the Homeland Security Chief John Kelly. He also had a meeting with the new Defence Secretary John Mattis.
Soon after our NSA’s return to Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) asked the concerned departments to go slow on the projects planned for the Chabahar Free Trade Zone where our Highways and Infrastructure Development Minister Nitin Gadkari had promised an investment of Rs. 1 lakh crores. The MEA then asked the Fertiliser Department (March 29, 2017) to instruct the state-run Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers plant in Mangalore to go slow in selecting an Iranian partner for the proposed urea plant. A similar message was sent to the proposed $3 billion investment in the aluminium smelter plant that was to be set up by the National Aluminium Company (NALCO) in Iran. While these decisions were taken on the fear of Indian investments getting caught in the crossfire of US sanctions on Iran, it is now clear that President Trump is finding it increasingly difficult to break away from the JCPOA inked by his predecessor and impose fresh sanctions.
What we got from the White House was a one day invitation for our Prime Minister who went essentially to sign away defence deals worth over $110 billion to the US. But what we got from Iran were unexpectedly harsh comments from the Ayotallah on our Kashmir policy. While many of our nationalist leaders and commentators wondered at this outburst, few have seen the background for the Ayotallah’s reaction. So if we wish to make more foes in a region where we hardly have any friends, calibrating our foreign policy to Trump’s mood swings would be an assured way to go about.