(Persia Digest) – On 22 April 2018, newyorker.com writes that the Iran nuclear deal—the most significant non-proliferation agreement in more than a quarter century, whether you like the terms or not—is perched on the edge of a diplomatic cliff. By May 12th, President Trump will decide whether to kick it into the abyss. He hates it. “The worst deal I’ve ever seen,” he told Fox News, in an interview for the 2017 Super Bowl. “It was a deal that should never have been negotiated.” The world’s five other major powers—Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia—were equal parties to the accord. The United Nations Security Council unanimously endorsed it, as did the twenty-eight nations of the European Union. But the United States was the decisive voice during the two years of diplomacy that went into the deal’s signing, in 2015, and it will be decisive in its fate now.
Trump could kill the deal by deciding not to comply with U.S. obligations—namely, the waiving of sanctions, which was promised in exchange for Iran limiting its controversial nuclear program. The President could also walk away from the deal altogether, even though the five other powers are still wedded to it. His Administration apparently calculates that Iran will stick to the terms, whatever Washington does. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told me otherwise. “If they want to kill the deal, they have that option, but they have to face the consequences,” Zarif said. “It’s dangerous to be arrogant, very dangerous.” For fifteen months, he added, Trump has already tried to sabotage the accord by disrupting normal business with Iran.
Zarif, who completed his doctorate at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is spending six days in New York; he’s technically on U.N. business, but is also speaking with members of Congress, the U.S. foreign-policy community, and the media. I met with him three times, and he seemed intent on trying to salvage the accord. “It’s important for Iran to receive the benefits of the agreement,” he said.
Tehran has three broad choices if Trump opts out, according to Zarif. In the first, Iran could withdraw from the deal, terminate compliance, and resume—even increase—its uranium enrichment, which produces fuel that can be used in either a nuclear-energy program or the world’s deadliest weapon. Despite its vast oil reserves, the country is keen to harness nuclear power, which could diversify energy sources for a burgeoning population, conserve resources for export, and accelerate modern development. “America never should have feared Iran producing a nuclear bomb,” Zarif said. “But we will pursue vigorously our nuclear enrichment.”
Iran once had the capacity to enrich uranium at twenty per cent, a level that far exceeds the basic needs for an energy program. As is, the deal limits Iran to roughly 3.7-per-cent enrichment. (The U.S., along with the five other major powers, argued that Iran did not need a higher capacity if, as it claimed, it only wanted enriched uranium for nuclear energy.) The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in the toughest inspections ever imposed on any country, has repeatedly certified Iran’s compliance.
Iran’s second option exploits a dispute mechanism in the deal, which allows any party to file a formal complaint with a commission established to adjudicate violations. Iran has filed eleven complaints—to Federica Mogherini, the E.U.’s foreign-policy chief, who heads the commission—citing U.S. violations on three different counts, Zarif said. The process allows forty-five days for resolution. “The objective of the process is to bring the United States into compliance,” Zarif said.
Britain, France, and Germany, the three European powers party to the deal, have already been trying to achieve that objective. Since January, they have brokered quiet negotiations through the State Department to address Trump’s objections but save the accord. Those objections, backed by many in Congress, involve concerns about the scope of inspections, future tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and so-called sunset clauses, which would eventually allow Iran to resume sensitive activities.
The European effort has reached its final stages, with agreement on most issues except sunset clauses. As part of the effort, the Europeans are also trying to win a guarantee from the White House that it will not impede Iran’s international business—a hard sell, according to European officials. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, is expected to press the case further with Trump during his three-day state visit, which begins Monday, diplomats told me. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, due in town on Friday, will follow suit, and the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, will make her case by phone.
But Zarif said any compromise that adds new conditions or interpretations was a non-starter. “We don’t condone it, and we don’t believe it’s useful or fruitful or conducive to a better implementation of the [deal], and they know that to be our position,” Zarif said. “The only scenario that we can deal with is for the Europeans to talk to the Trump Administration to start, once and for all, complying with the deal.”
Iran’s third option is the most drastic: the country could decide to walk away from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or N.P.T., the landmark agreement now signed by a hundred and ninety-one nations. The treaty, enacted in 1970, seeks to halt the spread of nuclear weapons and foster the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The crisis surrounding Iran’s program began in 2003, when the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Tehran failed to meet its obligations under the N.P.T., specifically in declaring its uranium-enrichment program.
In Tehran, debate is still intense about which option Iran should choose. “Iran is not a monolith,” Zarif said. But he noted that the public’s mood had shifted over the past year. Distrust is deeper. “The United States has not only failed to implement its side but is even asking for more,” he said. “That’s a very dangerous message to send to the people of Iran, but also to the people of the world—that you should never come to an agreement with the United States, because, at the end of the day, the operating principle for the United States is ‘what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable.’ ”
I asked Zarif if there was a prospect, if the deal dies, that Iran would negotiate again with the United States. “Diplomacy never dies,” he told me. “But it doesn’t mean that there is only one avenue for diplomacy, and that is the United States.” Whatever Iran’s final decision, he said, it “won’t be very pleasant to the United States. That I can say. That’s a consensus.”