Iran won’t scrap JCPOA right away if US quits: Zarif
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says Tehran would not rush to scrap a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal if Washington chose to unilaterally walk away from the agreement.
What action Iran would take under that scenario, Zarif told The Global POLITICO, would depend on what transpires next.
The extensive interview, which was conducted during Zarif’s stay in the US for a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting earlier in September, was published by POLITICO on Monday.
The administration of US President Trump, long opposed to the deal, has twice certified Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal in notifications to the US Congress under an American law. However, it has signaled that a third verification — due in mid-October — would not be forthcoming.
In case Trump refuses to certify Iranian compliance, Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to restore the sanctions against Iran that the US has agreed to waive under the deal, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions would be a major non-performance of the deal by the US.
Zarif said Iran would not immediately pull out of the JCPOA if the Trump administration refused to certify Iranian compliance. Instead, he said, Iran “would wait for Congress to make its decision.”
He explained that the US Congress has in the past decided to keep the deal in place. “It can decide again.”
“And then a lot would depend on how Europe responds to this, whether the European Union wants to follow the United States, or whether the European Union, as has been stated by various European representatives, wants to resist the pressure by the United States… and based on the realities on the ground, Iran will exercise its option[s].”
Those options, he said, “range from walking away from the deal to somehow accommodating Europe. We would need to then decide.”
The US is one of the six parties to the deal with Iran. The other five are permanent United Nations Security Council members France, Britain, Russia and China, plus Germany. They finalized the JCPOA in July 2015 and started implementing it in January 2016.
Under the deal, Iran applied some limits to its nuclear program in exchange for the termination of all nuclear-related sanctions against it.
The Trump administration, which took over in January 2017, one year after the Iran deal had come into force, has been opposed to it and is actively seeking a pretext for a unilateral withdrawal from the accord.
All the other parties to the JCPOA have, in contrast, stressed that the agreement must be sustained.
Last week, Zarif urged Europe to refrain from going along with the US if Washington decided to scrap the JCPOA and re-impose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.
Chances of the deal standing?
Foreign Minister Zarif was asked in the POLITICO interview what the chances were for the deal to be standing a year from now.
“Better than 50,” he responded.
Were they good odds “considering how much time you’ve poured into making this agreement stick?” he was asked.
“Good enough,” he replied briefly, with an apparent air of confidence.
It took negotiators from Iran and the six other countries some 22 months of detailed talks and relentless diplomacy to come up with the JCPOA.
The Iranian foreign minister, who was Iran’s chief negotiator in the long-running talks, made it clear that renegotiating the deal was not an option.
“This deal has been the subject of thorough negotiations for two years; you cannot renegotiate just one aspect of the deal that one party doesn’t like because there are aspects of the deal that other parties don’t like,” Zarif said.
The US pressure to renegotiate is thus “meaningless” and “proves that the US is not a reliable negotiating partner,” he said.
Zarif said that by insisting on renegotiating a deal that is working, the US was signaling to the world that it was not a reliable negotiating partner — for anyone.
He implied that North Korea would thus have good reason to suspect the US’s credibility for potential talks to defuse disputes of its own with America.
“I think it would make it tougher for anybody to believe and rely upon the United States —anybody, not just North Korea. You’ve seen US allies saying that the United States is not a reliable partner,” Zarif stressed.
The Iran nuclear agreement was endorsed by a United Nations Security Council resolution. Resolution 2231 (2015) was cosponsored by UNSC members, including the US itself.
Zarif said it would be “rather ridiculous for the United States, which is a permanent member of the Security Council, to question the validity of a resolution that it itself produced, itself presented as a cosponsor, to the Security Council, and voted upon, and it was approved unanimously.”
Additionally, he denounced Trump’s speech to the 72nd session of the UNGA last month.
Trump’s “statement was so negative… This was the most insulting statement that had ever been made by any US president against Iran since the [1979 Islamic] Revolution, certainly one of the worst and most negative statements ever made against Iran in the General Assembly by anybody,” the Iranian foreign minister said.
In contrast, Iran takes “pride in the fact that we are prudent and moderate.”
“We do not believe in heated rhetoric; we do not believe in such heated exchanges because we do not believe that it serves anybody’s interests. And we do not believe that engaging in such exchanges advances our national security interests. Nor do we believe they advance US national security interests,” he said.