Tehran, Iran – Five years ago today, President Donald Trump held up a signed executive order on camera at the White House announcing the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and world powers.
Despite years of work, and after many ups and downs, the landmark agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has not been revived, leading to heightened tensions in the region.
The Trump administration’s repeated designations of Iranian entities and agencies, especially to make it difficult for his successor, Joe Biden, to undo his damage, along with the changing political climate, have prevented the JCPOA from reinstating.
The then-U.S. president had argued the deal was not enough to permanently prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and Trump took pleasure in undoing one of his predecessor Barack Obama’s most important foreign policy achievements.
His administration has put forward a dozen conditions in order to renegotiate a deal with Tehran that is more favorable to Washington, effectively amounting to a full political capitulation by Iran.
Unsurprisingly, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei chose a path of “resistance” in the face of Trump, saying his dead body “will feed worms and rodents” as he overthrows Trump. The aspirations of the Islamic Republic are taken to the grave.
The Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” policy, which includes imposing the toughest sanctions ever imposed on Iran, has since had a major impact on the Iranian economy. The Biden administration has continued its predecessor’s policy toward Iran despite initial condemnation.
Runaway inflation continues to squeeze ordinary Iranians, and the national currency has been on a downward spiral, even as Tehran has gradually ramped up its oil sales in defiance of sanctions.
However, Iranian leaders have not abandoned their principles of defiance of the United States, and attacks on U.S. interests in the region by pro-Iran groups have only multiplied in recent years, according to Washington.
The U.S. assassination of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in early 2020 sent tensions to new heights, with Tehran and Washington teetering on the brink of war.
Most recently, Iran seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman in the past two weeks, which Western media said was a response to the US seizure of another tanker carrying Iranian oil.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi made the first visit by an Iranian president in 13 years last week, in what Iranian state media called a “strategic victory” for Iran in the face of US defeat.
JCPOA in the region
Israel has been the JCPOA’s greatest enemy since its inception, lobbying Washington to declare the agreement a failure.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised Trump after he reneged on the agreement, while Tel Aviv has repeatedly opposed the other signatories – namely China, Russia, France, Germany and the UK – to pass the deal beginning in 2021.
Israel has also warned it would attack Iran to prevent it from acquiring the bomb, and Biden’s national security adviser, Jack Sullivan, said last week that the US president was willing to recognize “Israel’s freedom of action” if necessary.
The comment angered Tehran, prompting security chief Ali Shamkhani to see it as a U.S. admission of responsibility for Israeli attacks on Iranian facilities and nuclear scientists.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, a host of Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, also cheered Trump, as they raised concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program – which insists on a strict peace – and its support for proxies across the region.
But as Tehran also steps up the pressure and the United States gradually sees its role in the region diminish, Arab leaders recognize the need for change.
The 2019 attack on Saudi oil facilities by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the subsequent lack of response from Washington, appeared to be a turning point for the Arab world.
After two years of direct talks, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed in March to resume diplomatic ties brokered by China, and the embassy is expected to reopen this week.
More challenges ahead
For now at least, JCPOA stakeholders appear content to maintain the status quo while managing tensions.
Last year’s IAEA board of governors passed two Western-sponsored resolutions condemning Iran — and Tehran’s response — and negotiations have stalled since September, but that hasn’t prompted either side to take action in their absence. Announcing a Better Alternative to the JCPOA Death Agreement.
However, the fate of the agreement is expected to generate more confrontation between Tehran and the West in the coming months.
Western parties have reportedly warned Iran that if it further enriched uranium to levels that could be used to produce bombs, this would prompt them to activate the deal’s so-called “bounce-back” mechanism, which would automatically restore U.S.-United Nations sanctions against Iran. sanctions.
Iran and the IAEA reached an agreement in Tehran in March to boost cooperation, which could prevent another resolution from being passed at the upcoming meeting of the nuclear watchdog’s board of directors in June.
Another important deadline is October, when the JCPOA will lift a series of restrictions on Iran’s research, development and production of long-range missiles and drones.
With Israel also pushing for a quick pushback and the West accusing Tehran of selling armed drones to Russia for use in the Ukraine war, stakeholders will face the job of managing tensions in the coming months.