ALL PARTIES AGREE THAT IRAN was meeting its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have repeatedly confirmed this. Iran does not possess nuclear weapons.
The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) gives participants the right to pursue a civilian nuclear programme for peaceful purposes. But after their massive falling out in the late 1970s, the US frequently claimed that Iran was violating the treaty. Granted, the line between civilian and military nuclear programmes is a thin one. But by 2003 even the American intelligence agencies said Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapons programme - a view which US official sources restated as late as July this year.
Despite evidence of Iran’s compliance, a couple of weeks after the US withdrew from the JCPOA, secretary of state Pompeo outlined a new approach in a speech to the Heritage Foundation on 21st May. The conditions are so draconian they might well have been formulated with rejection in mind. No selfrespecting sovereign state could possibly have agreed to them.
The US “will apply unprecedented financial pressure” on Iran, Pompeo said, unless it:
permanently and verifiably abandons in perpetuity any military dimension of its nuclear programme;
stops enrichment and never pursues plutonium reprocessing;
provides the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country;
halts development of nuclear-capable ballistic missile systems.
Formally speaking, US withdrawal did not bring the JCPOA to an end, and President Rouhani looked to Europe to uphold its part in the agreement. Iran called for “a firm response”. US withdrawal from a multilateral international agreement, it said, was contrary to international law and sent a message to the world that global issues cannot be resolved through negotiation and diplomacy.
Britain, France, Germany and others spoke out against unilateral termination of the JCPOA. EU foreign ministers co-signed a statement that promised to protect European business. But US sanctions are designed to make this extremely difficult, if not impossible.
As the first tranche of sanctions kicked in on 7th August, Trump tweeted: “Anyone doing business with Iran will not be doing business with the United States.” A second, even tougher round of sanctions will come into effect on 5th November. The impact of sanctions is already making itself felt:
» German car maker Daimler has announced a halt to business activities in Iran;
» Total, the French oil giant, has said it will shelve a multi-billion dollar investment;
» British Airways and Air France have both declared a suspension of all flights to Iran from September.
Far-reaching secondary sanctions are intended to have a huge effect on international businesses. Any company anywhere doing business with Iran will be barred from doing business in the US; and any company doing business in the US will be banned from doing business with any other company that does business with Iran.
The EU has introduced new ‘blocking’ laws designed to limit the damage to European businesses. They will make it illegal for banks to withdraw services from companies conducting legitimate business with Iran. But European companies face a choice between a rock and a hard place: hefty fines and restricted access to the US for those companies that flout sanctions, or the prospect of legal action by customers if they disregard EU law.
Responses so far suggest business is sceptical about the EU's ability to nullify the force of US sanctions. The Iran nuclear agreement seems ready to bite the dust.
Contrast US demands on Iran with its own nuclear strategy published earlier this year. The National Security Strategy (December 2017) and Nuclear Posture Review (February 2018) describe a dangerous international scenario which requires the US to expand the circumstances in which the use of nuclear weapons might be considered.
These include using nuclear weapons to prevent “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” - that is, in a conventional military conflict with a non-nuclear adversary. The US will also continue work on a new generation of so-called low-yield nuclear weapons. (The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing an estimated 250,000, would be considered ‘low yield’).
Technological advances bring the development of smaller and more accurately targeted nuclear weapons within the United States’ reach. Accordingly, we’re seeing the beginnings of a discussion in some circles about the possibility of ‘winning’ a ‘limited’ nuclear war.
Contrast the US approach to Iran with that of its own nuclear policies. But grumbles about nuclear hypocrisy aren’t enough. It’s time to give priority to campaigning against Trump’s war drive.