Mr Guterres, Trump is right in asking for a new Iran deal

On the first account, the JCPOA has established precedence for accepting "enrichment" in the region.

By Mohammed Baharoon

Published: Sun 13 May 2018, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 13 May 2018, 9:59 PM

It was surprising to see the reaction of the international community over US President Donald Trump's announcement of US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) considering that Trump and members of his main cabinet committee have consistently maintained their stand on the issue.
The most surprising statement, however, was that of United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, who expressed deep concern regarding Trump's decision. To me, Guterres' comments are not valid.
On one hand I do understand Guterres' concern. But I would nonetheless like to highlight a few points regarding his description of the JCOPA as "a major achievement in nuclear non-proliferation and diplomacy and the fact that it has contributed to regional and international peace and security".
On the first account, the JCPOA has established precedence for accepting "enrichment" in the region. Accepting enrichment activities for a country that has been running secret enrichment facilities opens up possibilities for other country in the region, too, including the UAE, which has signed the 123 Agreement with the US to develop a zero-enrichment nuclear programme. This programme was supposed to lay the foundation for a zero-enrichment zone in the Middle East. Accepting Iran's right to enrich is a precedent any country in the region today planning a nuclear energy facility would insist on retaining. Uranium enrichment capability does not support non-proliferation and Guterres assessment that the JCPOA is contributing to non-proliferation, therefore, is inaccurate.
On the second account, the point that the JCPOA is a diplomatic achievement would have been accurate if war was an alternative. The JCPOA was made possible as an act of diplomacy. Sanctions are an accepted act of diplomacy, which the UN Charter (article 41) accepts as a diplomatic means of enforcing resolutions. The JCPOA is truly an achievement of diplomatic measures including sanctions. The US has reverted to those measures and did not declare any military actions against Iran. Diplomacy still thrives.
On the third account, describing the JCOPA as contributing to regional security is not the most challenging statement. Iran's support to non-state actors in the region has increased considerably since it signed the JCOPA. The operations of Al Quds Forces in Syria, the movement of the Zainebiyoun and Fatemiyoun brigades from Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight in Syria, as well as Iran's proven armament of Houthi militias in Yemen are evidences of Iran's contribution to regional instability. It is difficult for me to understand how Guterres sees the JCPOA's contribution to international peace and security.
I do, nonetheless, see his point that "Issues not directly related to the JCPOA should be addressed without prejudice to preserving the agreement" but he should also accept that Iran has stanchly refused to address issues such as its ballistic missile programme, an integral delivery mechanism for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Iran's ballistic missile programme is not restricted to the country. We have seen Iranian-made missiles getting transferred in parts to militia in Yemen, where they are assembled with help of Iranian experts and then targeted at Saudi Arabia. The JCPOA has accepted that Iran can enrich beyond the accepted levels after 2028 as a direct impact of the sunset clause. That, with Iranian investment in ballistic missiles technology, will only complicate the security situation in the region.
Guterres is calling JCPOA participants out to support this agreement, which is a valid point, but he shouldn't see the woods for the trees. The objective of the JCPOA is to contribute to regional and global peace and security and that is what needs support, otherwise the JCPOA will be a status-quo agreement that has no objectives beyond delaying a weaponised nuclear programme for another 10 years or so.
The agreement, though not about regional security, hoped to open a window to resolve other issues pertaining to missile programmes and support for militias across the region. However, two years and a half years after the implementation of the agreement in January 2016 the agreement didn't achieve that objective. Regional peace and security are worse than when the deal was signed.
On the contrary, the US decision to withdraw from the deal may provide Iran with a chance to engage again with regional and international players on achieving a more secure and stable region that Iran along with its neighbours and the international community can develop and thrive.
Mohammed Baharoon is the Director General of Dubai Public Policy Research Centre (b'huth)

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