Ukraine war stalls negotiations to resurrect Iran nuclear pact

Ukraine war stalls negotiations to resurrect Iran nuclear pact


07 | 02 | 2023


Russian invasion has changed priorities on the international diary ; Iranian drone supplies to Russia complicate Tehran's relationship with US and EU

In the picture

Centrifuges at a nuclear power plant in Iran [Tasnim News Agency].

Negotiations to resurrect the international agreement on Iran's nuclear program, signed in 2015 and moribund since 2018 when the Trump Administration exited the pact, have been stalled for several months. The attempt by the Biden Administration and the EU to regain Tehran's commitment to restrict its uranium enrichment has been stalled by the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency notes the growing accumulation of increasingly enriched uranium in Iranian nuclear plants.

The international community fears Iran's growing potential to manufacture nuclear weapons due to the improvement in its weapons capabilities and the ambiguity and lack of credibility of the reports submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The possible Iranian nuclear rearmament, added to the already existing instability in the region, puts both the countries geographically closest to Iran and the world powers on alert.

The Joint Comprehensive Action Plan

The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which entered into force ninety days after the adoption of Resolution 2231 (2015) of the United Nations Security committee , had as its goal main purpose to stop the development nuclear and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Iran, as well as to provide reaction time to the P5+1 in case of crisis or emergency. In return, the economic sanctions imposed on the Iranian government by the international community would be gradually reduced. This agreement was a milestone in the framework of international cooperation, as it put an end to more than a decade of tensions between Iran and the P5+1+EU countries (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany and the member countries of the European Union) and established conventional diplomatic channels for relations between these actors. However, following the U.S. withdrawal in 2018, enacted by Trump unilaterally, the other countries that made up the pact, in addition to the European Union, abandoned their obligations; including Iran, which began again to develop enriched uranium in its nuclear plants.

The contents of the JCPOA were much stricter and more demanding than the safeguards mechanisms of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which verifies compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran continues to be a party, despite being in breach of it. The obligations of the Pact were specifically addressed to the Islamic Republic and, although it limited Iran's nuclear ambitions, it also granted it aid for Economics and trade, as well as an easing of the international sanctions imposed since 2002, when alarms were raised about the finding of clandestine nuclear plants.

The attempt to revive the JCPOA in April 2021 in Vienna seemed to be progressing well, with all parties interested in either resuming the pact or drafting a new one. This effort came about because both the U.S. and Iran had undergone a change in presidency, with Biden and Raisi respectively, which added hope to the revival of the pact. Negotiations stalled with the onset of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and, although the Biden administration tackled both conflicts separately, these have lost relevance. The last talks about resurrecting the JCPOA occurred in August 2022 and have seen no prospects of moving forward since then.

The impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine

The revision of the JCPOA was in its eighth round of negotiations when the Moscow-sponsored war broke out on Ukrainian territory, which caused these negotiations to be put on the back burner. The priority of the parties involved changed, despite being closely related: faced with the difficulty of strengthening the JCPOA, Tehran had been strengthening its ties with Moscow in the political, economic and military spheres for years, especially in times of tension with the West. In a way, Iran has been trying to balance its interest in an understanding with the European P5+1 countries, for the advantageous economic opportunities they offer, with a rapprochement with Russia and its vision of a multipolar world, in which the United States is not the only great power. It is worth mentioning, however, that some sectors of Iranian politics are reluctant to strengthen ties with Russia because of its complicated history with the country.

For the time being, the relationship with Russia has been governed by commercial interests and business, but it remains to be seen how relations between the two countries will develop in the future, as Iran seeks the perfect balance to have its economic and political needs covered. The supply to Russia of Iranian-produced drones in the Ukrainian war and the presence of technicians on the ground to operate them opens up prospects for further alignment with Moscow, although it can also be interpreted as an attempt to strengthen the cards Tehran can play in the multipolar balance.

In addition, the Russian Federation has become involved in the review of the JCPOA, as it claims that it directly affects its relationship with Iran. Among its interests would be to take advantage of the establishment of energy supplies in a legitimate way, according to Moscow's interpretation of the framework legal interpretation of the JCPOA. Thus, for the time being, it is difficult to conceive of renewing the IAEA's JCPOA, being aware that it is up to committee Security, among others, to approve it.

Current indications

In recent months, the International Atomic Energy Agency has issued several resolutions on status in Iran highlighting the urgent need to protect the safeguards mechanisms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The latest warning resolution, in November, was met by Tehran with an increase in uranium enrichment. Despite the opacity of the Iranian government in relation to its nuclear development , the presidency announced to have reserves of uranium enriched to 60%. This is not enough to manufacture an atomic weapon - the percentage would have to be around 90% - but it brings the country's potential closer to the creation of a nuclear bomb.

Also, this level of uranium enrichment vehemently breaks with the clauses of the 2015 Pact, as these stockpiles exceed 19 times the permitted limit, and increase exponentially. Raisi's government defends that these stockpiles are for medical purposes, but at the same time it has three undeclared nuclear technological facilities, in addition to heavy water plants. Given this information, the IAEA cannot guarantee that the purposes of Iran's programs are peaceful.

On the other hand, the reaction of the countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel, is of concern. Riyadh has declared its intention to defend itself symmetrically in the event of Iran's termination of the manufacture of an operational nuclear bomb and, in turn, has been skeptical about the possibility of restoring the JCPOA, urging Tehran to comply with its international obligations. Likewise, Israel has shown its concerns about non-compliance with the Pact, which it has been reluctant to comply with from the outset. The approach was as follows: the reduction of tariffs and the facilitation of international monetary flows could lead to the financing of radical Islamist groups, present in the Gaza Strip, which provoked the rejection of a large part of Israeli politics, and also that of a sector of US Republicanism. This, together with Israel's covert nuclear arsenal, contributes to regional instability and to the difficulty of creating a new agreement.

At final, it is difficult to have a clear vision of what the future holds for the Middle East, especially considering that Iran was the main promoter of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the region (ZLADM). The challenges posed by the Middle East are extensive and will continue to be so, which is why the coordination of world powers and international organizations is essential to ensure that all the efforts made to date do not become obsolete.