Will there be a nuclear Iran now?

Save the nuclear deal with Iran! : The USA and Europe must now approach Tehran - there is not much time left

Sigmar Gabriel was SPD chairman and Federal Foreign Minister from 2017 to 2018. Götz Neuneck is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg

US President Joe Biden's decision to revert to the nuclear deal with Iran is of great importance for maintaining stability and peace in the Middle East. Above all, however, it would be a first visible step against the disastrous tendency towards nuclear armament, which is already in full swing not only among the classic nuclear powers, but has also long since spread to much smaller states.

The example of North Korea is too tempting, which sees itself largely protected from attempts at “regime change” from outside by owning “the bomb”. At the borders of Europe, only Turkey’s membership in NATO is likely to prevent the country’s political leadership from using military-grade nuclear capabilities to advance their striving for regional hegemony.

A permanent failure of the "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" (JCPoA), as the nuclear agreement between Iran and the three EU states France, Great Britain, Germany and the European Union as well as Russia and China is officially called, would not only make this country relative to a military nuclear state in a short time, but lead a whole series of other states in the region on the same path.

Concern about the intimidation and blackmail potential of a nuclear-armed Iran would be too great. The nuclear arms race in the Middle East would be set in motion. That was and is one of the main reasons why Europe has campaigned for Iran agreements in more than ten years of negotiations and is still doing so today.

The talks will resume on Tuesday in Vienna

Talks to rescue the agreement and a possible return of the USA will begin a new round in Vienna on Tuesday. This was announced by Iran and the EU on Friday after a video conference between the remaining contracting parties Germany, France, Great Britain, China, Russia and Iran. US representatives are also to come to Vienna. However, only indirect contacts through intermediaries are planned between the two states.

This "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" is an effective and verifiable agreement that ended the twelve-year crisis over Iran's nuclear program in 2015 and drastically minimized the risk of Iran becoming a nuclear-armed state -Security Council decided.

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It was clear to the western contracting parties from Europe and the USA that this nuclear agreement could avert the most pressing and greatest danger of a nuclear-armed Iran, but by no means solved all the conflicts and challenges associated with Iran in the region: Iran's ballistic missile program, the Involvement in the war in Yemen and the related conflict with Saudi Arabia, the aggressive stance against the State of Israel and, above all, the destabilization of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq by Shiite militias remained just as unsolved after the signing of the nuclear agreement, as did the serious human rights violations in the Iran. But the danger of war in the Middle East decreased, because Israel had already announced that it would not stand idly by as Iran developed into a military nuclear power.

In fact, at the beginning of 2018, the UK, France and the EU, under the leadership of Germany, succeeded in opening a second security policy negotiation path that was independent of the nuclear agreement. First of all, contributions should be made to end the murderous Yemen War. However, the unilateral exit from the nuclear agreement by US President Donald Trump also led to Iran breaking off this second negotiation path. The result is a veritable heap of broken glass that the current US administration under President Biden is now trying to put together again.

This new, second negotiation path, independent of the nuclear agreement, should have addressed the security interests of the entire region as well as those of Iran. For the provocative and dangerous appearance of Iran for the European and American perspective and its multifaceted spoiler function around the Persian Gulf also has as one of the causes the complete absence of a common security architecture in the region.

Iran has not forgotten the overthrow of the Mossadegh democratic government by the West

As little as we want to admit it from a Western perspective: Not only its neighboring countries, but also Iran itself is exposed to a permanent threat. Because he assumes that there is in truth a common plan of the West: regime change in Iran. Just as the Americans have not forgotten the humiliation of the embassy occupation in Tehran in 1979, Iran has neither forgotten the coup organized by the West against the first democratic government, Mossadegh, which resulted in the Shah regime, nor the tolerance of Saddam's chemical weapons attack Hussein - at that time still an ally of the West - on Iran. Geography and history also shape the view of the present and future in the Persian Gulf.

The importance of the nuclear deal is great and at the same time extends far beyond the region. Because the agreement also strengthened the non-proliferation treaty on nuclear weapons of 1970, the review conference of which is planned for August 2021.

Iran could be nuclear armed within a year

Since President Trump abandoned the Iran agreement in May 2018, introduced new sanctions and the policy of "maximum pressure", Iran has gradually moved away from the nuclear deal. The treaty gives Iran the opportunity to do so. Tehran has gradually exceeded some agreed limits on the degree of uranium enrichment, uranium production and the development of new centrifuges and has also suspended provisions of the so-called additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These steps are worrying but still reversible. A nuclear armament of Iran is not acute, but can be forced within a year.

So who is taking the first step? Tehran demands that the US sanctions be lifted first before the government returns to the negotiating table. The White House is apparently working on offers in which Iran first has to reduce its centrifuges and thus its ability to enrich uranium, and in return, the USA's first economic sanctions against Tehran are lifted.

In order to prevent the failure of the current efforts, Germany must mediate diplomatically together with France and Great Britain and work towards a coordinated implementation of the steps between Iran and the USA. In view of the upcoming elections in Iran in June (and the beginning of the election campaign in May), the time is pressing for signals from the West. For his part, US President Biden is facing some pressure in the US Congress. Opponents argue that sanctions are necessary to demand further concessions from Iran on the missile program, support for rebels in Syria and Iraq, and respect for human rights.

Three advances by the West are now conceivable

The following advances by the West would be possible, each of which would of course have to be answered by Iran with its own steps to return to the nuclear agreement: On the one hand, the USA could lift the "secondary sanctions" against companies and institutions in other countries - especially the EU - continue to feel bound by the nuclear deal with Iran and are therefore ready for economic cooperation with Tehran.

In addition, sanctions relating to medical material and drugs should be completely lifted, which would be of paramount importance, especially in times of the pandemic.

Last but not least, a small portion of Iran's “frozen accounts” could be released from the oil business. In return, Tehran would have to stop the development of new centrifuges or limit uranium enrichment to 3.7 percent. If Iran fails to meet its obligations, the positive steps can be withdrawn.

At the same time, the Western negotiating partners would also have to build confidence in the states in the Middle East, which continue to reject the nuclear agreement as inadequate. If the USA are again a full member of the treaty and Iran adheres to the agreements of the nuclear agreement, not only would a lot of trust be gained, but this would also serve as a model for the international fight against proliferation risks. And the resumption of talks on a regional framework for peace and stability in the region would be possible.

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