Vol. XLII No. 19 May 13, 2018

The Rogue Nation: US Breaks the Iran Nuclear Deal

Prabir Purkayastha

ON May 12, the US walked out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCOPA) agreement, signed between the five Security Council Permanent members plus Germany (P5+1), and Iran. This agreement was a quid pro quo between the P5+1 countries and Iran. The agreement was for global sanctions against Iran ending, in lieu of dismantling a significant part of its nuclear programme. Iran fulfilled its part of the bargain, and this has been verified by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its numerous visits to Iran. It is the US that is reneging on its commitments.

This reneging on international agreements by the US is not an isolated one.  This is the pattern that the US has been following now for the last 25 years. The US negotiated the 1992 Kyoto protocols on climate change, significantly lowering its ambition, and then refused to ratify it. This is exactly what it did again with the 2016 Paris agreement. The price of having the US in the Paris Agreement was to abandon targets for countries based on what was required to save the world from disastrous global warming. Under US pressure, each country pledged what it would do, without addressing whether the cumulative effect of these pledges was enough to save the globe. The US then broke from the Paris Agreement, the only country in the world to be outside the Agreement.

The US walked out of the nuclear agreement that it had reached in 1994 with the Democratic Republic of Korea or North Korea, claiming that it had violated the spirit of the agreement, “overlooking” that the US was in violation of the letter of the agreement.

In the Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, again it was the US that unilaterally broke the treaty in 2002, deciding that it could ring Russia with ABM batteries. The Russian response has been to unleash a new set of weapons that can defeat the ABM shields that the US has set up. The US media response, except from the arms control experts, is to wonder why Russia would be concerned by ABM shields. They seem to be completely ignorant that the ABM treaty was signed, not because ABM shields stop nuclear attacks, but because they create the possibility of a country striking first, and hoping that they can then ride out the weak return salvo. It encourages the possibility of a first strike. The acceptance of an ABM Treaty was the acceptance that a nuclear war is not winnable. By breaking the ABM Treaty, the US was signalling that it now had the capability to defeat Russia in a nuclear war.

In each case, the global media regards these as cases, not of bad faith by the US, but a consequence of its domestic politics. No other country would be allowed to make breaking of international treaties an “internal matter” of the country. This excuse is only available to the US, the rogue nation, whose domestic politics trumps – or Trumps – international treaties.

Lest we think that reneging on JCOPA can also hurt the US, we need to remember that the JCOPA had front-loaded Iran’s commitments. Only after fulfilling its commitments, would Iran benefit from the withdrawal of international sanctions. The US has therefore managed to scale back Iran’s nuclear capabilities significantly, and it’s now proposing to reimpose sanctions on Iran and pressure others to do as as well.

To recapitulate on the Iran agreement: at the time of the agreement, Iran had reached a threshold in which a nuclear breakout was a matter of few months. The JCOPA resulted in Iran reducing its number of centrifuges from 19,000 to about 5,000, reduced its inventory of Low Enriched Uranium (3.7 per cent purity) by 98 per cent – from 10,000 kg to only 300 kg. The Arak heavy water reactor for producing plutonium was repurposed for producing only radio isotopes for medical purposes, and the Fordow facilities for enriching of uranium was converted to a scientific centre and producing stable radio isotopes. 

It is instructive to see what the Director General of IAEA, Yukiya Amano said in April, 2018, “Our inspection work has doubled since 2013. IAEA inspectors now spend 3,000 calendar days per year on the ground in Iran...We collect and analyse hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by our sophisticated surveillance cameras in Iran – about half of the total number of such images that we collect throughout the world.”

Let us – for the time being – forget that it was Obama that signed the Iran deal and Trump that pulled out of it. Instead, think of the larger picture; that the US wants to weaken Iran and map out its military targets. Would it not be to its advantage to reduce Iran’s inventory of fissile material from 6-8 bombs to virtually nothing? Then use the IAEA inspectors to identify possible military targets using what Amano talks above, “hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by our sophisticated surveillance cameras”. Let us not forget the documented history of IAEA inspectors working with the US intelligence agencies to collect information about Iraq’s military targets, and high security governmental facilities. Was the JCOPA a charade so that the US can first soften Iran, and then take out Iran’s current government? Just as they did in Iraq and Libya, after Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi both, had agreed to give up their weapons of mass destruction?

It is strange that the US does not see any problem of entering into a discussion with North Korea, asking for it to dismantle its nuclear programme, against some assurances that itself may give regarding peace, denuclearising the Korean peninsula and withdrawal of its troops from there. If it can walk out of an agreement that it had with Iran, in which Iran scrupulously fulfilled its side of the bargain, what is the value of any agreement that any country can reach with the US? Can the US deliver on any promise it makes? What is the value of any agreement that Trump may reach with North Korea, if he decides that the US does not need to abide by any international agreement it reaches? Why would North Korea take Trump and his promises seriously? This must surely be the question that confronts DPRK. If the US cannot be trusted to adhere to any international treaty, then what is the purpose of reaching any agreement with the US?

For the US, any treaty is for imposing conditions on others, while accepting none for itself. It does not matter if it is climate change, or any arms limitation treaties. Whatever conditions it accepts, it reneges without fear of any consequence. All the while talking about how unreliable Iran, North Korea and others are! 

The blackmailing power of the US over the global community comes from its financial clout. Most global trade is in dollars, as also most international transactions. The US has therefore the ability to threaten foreign banks with sanctions, and freezing them out of the global financial system, if they do not “obey” the US domestic laws.

For Iran, things are not as bad as it was for Iraq and Libya. Iran has enough conventional military strength not be invaded and destroyed, as Iraq and Libya were. It is also considerably larger in size, its economy much more resilient after years of US sanctions. With rising oil prices, its ability to withstand is that much greater, particularly as it has China as major trade partner. The petro yuan that China is floating, may also lead to new trade alignments, free of the stranglehold of the dollar.

The other imponderable is the European Union. They have said that they will not abandon the JCOPA, and will therefore not re-impose sanctions on Iran. Iran has also said that they will adhere to JCOPA, and in 5+1, only 1 has walked out of the agreement. That might indeed be true, that JCOPA continues minus the US. 

It is possible that this is the decisive moment in history where the US hegemony, particularly over the global financial system finally breaks. Or we could face another West Asia war, in which the US again invades another country in the region. With untold consequences.  At this point, the world is poised on a knife edge. This is indeed a dangerous moment in history. For the world or the US? Or for both?