Is the Iran nuclear agreement dead?

On Aug. 6, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian called on the United States to have a “realistic response” to Iran’s proposals in the ongoing negotiations on the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear agreement. Meanwhile, the Europeans, who are acting as intermediaries in the U.S.-Iran negotiations said in a statement: “The text is on the table. There will be no re-opening of negotiations. Iran must now decide to conclude the deal while this is still possible.”

If we follow U.S. media coverage, it is easy to adopt the false narrative that the ongoing negotiations are at a standstill because the new “hardline” administration of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi is not really negotiating in good faith. The Europeans, supposedly the impartial deal brokers, have done much to bolster this narrative, obfuscating the obvious reason why the deal needs to be renegotiated to begin with. 

Russian and Chinese officials, the other signatories to the agreement, have made realistic statements throughout, pointing to the fact that the United States broke the agreement and the onus is on the U.S. to make amends for it. But, as portrayed in the U.S. media, Russia and China are pariah states whose words are unreliable, while the friendly European junior imperialists are to be trusted.

And then, there is the U.S. sponsored settler state in the Middle East, Israel, a nuclear-powered state whose every statement of concern about Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons is taken as legitimate.

What is the JCPOA?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is an agreement signed on July 14, 2015, under the Obama administration. The signatories are Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — Germany and the European Union.

According to the JCPOA, the United States and others recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. This is a right guaranteed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but one that imperialist powers had effectively refused to recognize up until then. Iran would implement the “Additional Protocol,” giving the International Atomic Energy Agency more powers to monitor its nuclear facilities. 

Additionally, Iran would reduce two-thirds of its uranium enrichment activity and ship out all of its enriched uranium above 300 kg abroad. The Fordow facility, built inside a hollowed-out mountain and virtually impenetrable by aerial bombardment, would remain operational, but only as a research center. The heavy water plant at Arak would continue operating, but redesigned to make it impossible to produce weapons-grade plutonium, if that were the intent.

Once the IAEA confirmed that these steps were taken, the United States would lift all nuclear-related economic sanctions, including oil embargos and financial restrictions.

The JCPOA worked for the remainder of President Obama’s administration. By all accounts, Iran complied with the agreement throughout. But, in October 2017, the administration of President Donald Trump unilaterally and illegally pulled out of the JCPOA and re-imposed sanctions on Iran in direct violation of the agreement.

How did Biden approach the JCPOA once elected?

Following the 2020 U.S. elections, many were hoping that President Joe Biden would quickly undo the Trump violation of the JCPOA, have the United States live up to its commitments and remove the sanctions on Iran as required by the agreement. It didn’t take long, however, until it became clear that the Biden administration was going to play hard ball.

First, Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanded that Iran return to compliance before the United States would. This was a ridiculous demand on its face as it was incontestable that it was the Trump administration that had violated the agreement, not Iran. In fact, even after Trump’s violation of the agreement, Iran had remained in compliance for about a year in a show of good faith.

In subsequent months, the United States raised the issue of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Iran has made scientific advances, making its missiles capable of reaching Israel. To the U.S. and Israel, this is unacceptable.

It is certainly fine for Israel to own nuclear bombs and missiles capable of delivering them to Iran any time. It is also perfectly acceptable for Israeli officials to threaten Iran day and night. But for Iran to have any means of defending itself, or showing that it can strike back, is unacceptable in imperialist circles.

In the next stage of the negotiations, the United States and Europe have continuously raised the objection that Iran is raising demands that are outside of the JCPOA, specifically Iran’s demand that the United States drop Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. If the United States dropped its demands that were outside of the JCPOA framework, the line goes, Iran should drop the demand of the United States dropping the IRGC from the terrorist list.

In an April 24 call with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Biden conveyed that the U.S. decision to maintain the IRGC on the terrorist list is final and that the U.S. would make no more concessions to Iran.

But this goes to the very heart of the JCPOA. Removal of sanctions was Iran’s sole incentive for entering the agreement. The designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization enables the United States to impose widespread economic sanctions on Iran, irrespective of the JCPOA. In fact, on March 20, 2017, the Trump administration formally certified that Iran was in compliance with JCPOA, but added that the country will be subject to non-nuclear, terrorism-related sanctions. The Trump administration refused to recertify Iran’s compliance in October 2017, however, citing multiple violations.

Economic importance of Revolutionary Guards

The IRGC is a major wing of Iran’s military. Much like the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, but on a much larger scale, the IRGC is involved in construction projects all around the country. In fact, as sanctions have driven out foreign investments and put a damper on domestic investments, the economic prominence of the IRGC has increased.

Without the removal of the IRGC from the U.S. terrorist list, Iran will effectively have to return to compliance, agreeing to restrictions on its nuclear program that other countries do not, while getting nothing in return. Pointing to the role of the IRGC in various economic projects, there will be no meaningful relief of sanctions.

Which side is hardline?

What the United States is presenting to Iran is this: Return to compliance with the JCPOA, allow unannounced inspections of your nuclear facilities to take place on demand, allow cameras to monitor some of your military sites 24/7, ship your enriched uranium out of the country, shut down the Fordo uranium enrichment facility — the only one that is impenetrable to a U.S./Israeli bombing. In return, the United States will see what it can do about removing sanctions on entities that it does not perceive as being in any way related to the IRGC. And, by the way, if a Republican administration gets elected in 2024, we are going to pull out of the JCPOA again.

With these being the effective terms of the negotiations to revive the JCPOA, it speaks to the highly biased coverage of the corporate media that the dominant narrative is that Iran’s new hardline administration does not want an agreement.

The task of socialists and other antiwar activists in the United States is to expose our government’s criminal foreign policy, whether it comes in the form of invasions, occupations and other military interventions, sanctions, coups, or funding right-wing opposition forces in targeted countries.

The U.S. imperialist ruling class is not there to benefit the working class, but to benefit its sponsors, big capital. The enemies of the Pentagon and the State Department are not the real enemies of the American people. The danger of future war and annihilation does not come from Iran, which has no nuclear weapons and a small fraction of the military might of the terrifying U.S. military. It is the U.S. government that is the primary danger to peace among the people on earth and to life on the planet itself.  

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