The Iran File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.
Nuclear Deal's Future Falls into Uncertainty
[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk(*) for the reader's awareness.]
Forecast: The Iranian regime will renege on some of its commitments to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to pressure Europe into offering Iran immediate and concrete economic benefits. The regime intends to signal its dissatisfaction with Europe’s efforts to preserve economic ties with Iran and portray strength against mounting U.S. pressure. The regime may leave or violate the JCPOA and resume its nuclear activities if Europe fails to offer Iran satisfactory economic deliverables.
The regime partially suspended its JCPOA commitments in response to mounting U.S. pressure and stalled European efforts to preserve economic ties with Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made the announcement during a nationally broadcast speech on May 8, 2019, exactly one year after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA. Rouhani *stated that Iran will no longer limit its low-enriched uranium (LEU) and heavy water stockpiles in accordance with Article 26 of the JCPOA. The article states that Iran declared that it would treat reimposed U.S. sanctions “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.” The announcement came after the U.S. revoked sanctions waivers relating to Iran’s civilian nuclear program, which allowed Iran to export its LEU and heavy water on May 3. Iran would need to cease its production of both if it reached the JCPOA-mandated stockpile limits and could not export the LEU and heavy water.
Regime officials emphasized that this partial suspension of commitments is not a withdrawal from the deal but rather signals discontent with Europe’s unwillingness to circumvent U.S. sanctions. Europe seeks to use a humanitarian trade mechanism, known as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), for medicinal and food trade with Iran, but progress has been slow, and the mechanism is currently inoperative. Rouhani stated that Europe must fulfill its commitments to maintain banking ties and oil trade with Iran, implying that INSTEX and humanitarian trade are not enough. Rouhani also emphasized Iran’s willingness to continue negotiations with Europe and that Iran will return to fulfilling all its JCPOA commitments when Europe meets its economic expectations.
The regime may leave or violate the JCPOA if Europe fails to satisfy its demands. Rouhani stated on May 8 that Iran will no longer adhere to uranium enrichment limits and will resume construction at the Arak Heavy Water Reactor Facility if Europe fails to provide Iran economic deliverables in 60 days. European nations emphasized their continued support for the JCPOA in response to this announcement but also cautioned Iran against abandoning its commitments. An unidentified French official reportedly warned that any Iranian violation of the JCPOA will “oblige [Europe] to reimpose sanctions.” It is very unlikely Europe will fully satisfy the regime’s economic expectations, particularly within the 60-day deadline, making it likely that the deal will fray further if it does not collapse altogether.
The JCPOA’s collapse could significantly increase already-high tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. expedited the deployment of a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Persian Gulf on May 5 in response to intelligence of potential Iranian threats to American forces in the region. The intelligence reportedly detailed possible attacks in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, the Persian Gulf, and the Bab el Mandeb Strait off the Yemeni coast. The U.S. also assessed that the regime was moving short-range ballistic missiles in the Persian Gulf, possibly in preparation for an escalation near the Strait of Hormuz. The JCPOA’s collapse and resumption of the regime’s nuclear program could further exacerbate these tensions and trigger an intentional or unintentional military escalation between Iran and the United States.