By Stefan M. Kløvning
International Relations, Washington-Tehran
The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the foreign ministry on Saturday that it would be an “obvious mistake” to negotiate with the U.S. due to their unreliability. “The word and even the signature of the Americans cannot be relied upon, so negotiations with America are of no avail,” his website quotes him as saying, alluding to Trump opting out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May and reinstating sanctions against Iran.
Also known as the Iran nuclear agreement, JCPOA was signed by the U.S., China, EU, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, and Iran in 2015, in order to curb Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Trump determined the deal to be ultimately ineffective as he perceived it was time-limited and would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons within 5 years and went too far in easing sanctions on Iran without demanding them put a permanent stop to their nuclear development.
As Goldfire Media predicted in its analysis of the deal in October, however, Iran could get an advantage from Trump’s decision:
Iran is following the requirements of the agreement. If decertified, it would therefore allow Iran to claim moral high ground over the US by portraying themselves as a reasonable player in the world compared to them.
This is what the Supreme Leader is now trying to emphasize, and has been doing since he opted out of the agreement since May. There isn’t any point in negotiating a deal and follow it, only to have the adversary come and change the rules informally and punish you for deviating from the non-official new ones.
As Rex Tillerson, then-State Secretary, tried to renegotiate the deal on behalf of the President in November last year, he was turned a blind eye by most of the constituents. The New York Times reported,
Mr. Tillerson acknowledged that international inspectors have found that Iran “is in technical compliance with the agreement, and no one around the table took exception to that.” But he argued that Iran was violating the larger aspirations of the deal by engaging in destabilizing activities not directly covered by it, like supporting terrorist groups.
The lack of success in renegotiating the agreement was what took Trump to move out from the agreement, without having Iran directly break any of its instructions. Iranians may have pondered upon Tillerson’s argument: If one can violate the “larger aspirations” of a deal without violating any of its instructions, isn’t it the instructions that have been poorly formulated with respect to the purpose of the deal? That was what Trump and Tillerson thought too, but they couldn’t do anything to change it, alas opting out of the poorly-formulated deal (though most of the rest of JCPOA’s constituents perceived it to still be a working/better than nothing-deal).
Iranian politicians alongside Khamenei has thus been debating the past week whether they still ought to honour the obligations of the deal after the United States was no longer a constituent. RFERL reported that Iran recently announced that they would be “continuing to acquire uranium and is close to finishing a plant where it can build more centrifuges to enrich uranium.” The Vice President and Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akhbar Salehi, however, insisted that Iran’s increase in nuclear activities would remain within the boundaries of the nuclear deal. While Washington accuses Iran of using the uranium to develop nuclear weapons, Iran claims it’s strictly used for civilian purposes.
Furthermore, Iran filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice against the United States on Wednesday, firing even more tension between them.
At the NATO summit, earlier in July, Trump said that he expected Iran at some point to call him to make a deal after pressure from increasing sanctions abounds upon them. The spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Bahram Ghasemi, however, says that Trump would have to initiate the call himself if he wants to negotiate anew after leaving the JCPOA, as the top leadership in Iran now rejects talks with the United States on principle.