By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — U.S. President Joe Biden's off-the-cuff remark, describing the nuclear deal with Iran as "dead", has led to widespread speculation about the future of the landmark agreement—and of the potential emergence of new nuclear powers in the horizon.
"It is dead, but we're not going to announce it," Biden said before adding, "long story".
Biden's quote was on a video circulating on social media filmed during an election event in November—and disclosed in December. [2022-12-30-25] ARABIC | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | TURKISH
The White House did not dispute the authenticity of the video but refused to comment—as did the State Department, leaving in doubt the future of Iran's nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The agreement, which was reached in Vienna in July 2015, included Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely, the U.S., UK, France, China and Russia, plus Germany, together with the European Union (EU).
The 159-page document, with five annexes, also lifted some of the crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy in exchange for limitations on Tehran's nuclear programme.
In May 2018, the United States withdrew from JCPOA as President Donald Trump announced he would negotiate a better deal. But that never happened.
If Iran eventually ends up going nuclear, it is most likely that Saudi Arabia, its political rival in the Middle East, would stake its claim to go nuclear as well, perhaps followed by Egypt.
Currently, Israel is the only undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East.
A lingering question remains: Will Iran eventually emerge as the world's 10th nuclear power, along with the existing nine, namely, the UK, U.S., Russia, China and France—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.
Asked about the future of the JCPOA, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters on December 19: "I have always believed that the JCPOA was a remarkable diplomatic achievement”.
"I was very frustrated when the JCPOA was put into question, and we will do everything we can, in the context of our limited sphere of competence, to make sure that the JCPOA is not lost, recognising that we are, at the present moment, in a serious risk of losing the JCPOA, which in my opinion, would be a very negative factor for peace and stability in the region and further afield,” declared Guterres.
Joseph Gerson, President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security and Co-Convener of the Peace & Planet International Network, told IDN the "death" of the JCPOA brings the world face to face with the possible end of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, vastly increasing the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation, and nuclear war itself.
"With the Biden Administration's announcement of the death of the JCPOA process, we are confronted by the dangers and enormity of Donald Trump’s ignorant and reckless withdrawal of the U.S. from the critically important JCPOA and the failures of the nuclear weapons states to fulfil their Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to engage in good faith diplomacy to eliminate their nuclear arsenals," he said.
Gerson said that former IAEA head and Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei decried the dangerous hypocrisy and double standard of the nuclear weapons states.
And Joseph Rotblat, the Nobel Peace laureate who earlier quit the Manhattan Project, warned that the failure to eliminate the world's nuclear arsenals would lead to global proliferation. No nation, he observed, would long tolerate what it experiences as an unjust imbalance of power/terror.
"This in no way exempts the Iranian government from condemnation for its nuclear program that has brought it to the brink of nuclear weapons production and the threats implicit in the program," said Gerson.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on December 22 that Iran is engaging in destabilizing activities, dangerous activities, support for terrorist groups and destabilizing actions throughout the region.
"We've been focused and engaged. That also does not take away from the proposition that it is profoundly in our interest that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon. And President Biden is committed to ensuring that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon. We've continued to believe that the most effective way, the most durable way to do that was through diplomacy."
And when the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, was actually enforced, said Blinken, it did exactly what it was designed to do.
"It put Iran’s nuclear program in a box. It was verified not only by international inspectors, it was verified by our own people, Iran’s compliance with that, including by the previous administration."
"And in our judgment, it was a grievous mistake to pull out of that agreement and to let Iran’s nuclear program out of the box. But that’s the reality that we inherited and that we’ve had to deal with."
"So, on the diplomacy, again, as I said, we think that’s the best solution. But despite the efforts that we’ve made, even as we’ve been pushing back against Iran’s other egregious actions, despite the efforts that we've made and our partners in Europe have made, Iran has not been willing or able to do what’s necessary to come back into compliance with the agreement."
"So, we will continue to look and act on ways to make sure that, one way or another, Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon."
Elaborating further, Gerson told IDN that the new crisis, created by the inability of U.S. and Iranian negotiators to find common ground to restore the Agreement, must be understood in its deeper contexts, beginning with the injustices of decades of coercive U.S. hegemony across Southwest Asia, as well as the Iranian government’s ambitions to replace the Western hegemon.
"These include the 1953 Anglo-American overthrow of the Mosaddegh government, backing of the Shah's brutal dictatorship, support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran to overthrow an "Islamic" government, and repeated U.S. threats and preparations to initiate nuclear war to reinforce its hegemony."
He also pointed out that Israel's nuclear arsenal and the double standard practised by the U.S. and other nations turning a hypocritical blind eye to Israel’s nuclear arsenal are also significant factors.
"It is increasingly expected that if and when Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state that it will follow the Israeli model, not publicly acknowledging its arsenal while wielding its nuclear weapons as a coercive and potentially genocidal force."
This, in turn, will likely lead Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to develop nuclear arsenals of their own, he predicted.
"We also face the possibility that, with or without explicit U.S. backing, before or soon after Iran produces its first nuclear weapon, its nuclear infrastructure will be attacked by Israel. This, in turn, will generate a wider regional war with devastating consequences for all involved."
It is thus imperative that despite their differences, all governments that can exercise diplomatic leverage to save the JCPOA. Gerson declared that it is near the top of our urgent and common interests. [IDN-InDepthNews — 30 December 2022]
Photo: The then U.S. President Trump announced withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal in May 2018. Credit: The White House Flickr.