(Persia Digest) - Joshua H Pollack said: “If the EU has to appeal directly to the Iranians to stay within the terms of the JCPOA regardless of US actions in order to avoid being provoked into an open conflict, then I suspect they will do so.”

Donald Trump will be deciding the fate of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the JCPOA, on 12 May 2018 and whether the US will decertify and withdraw from the multilateral agreement. Recently “The Washington Post” wrote that Trump will exit from the deal. But, “The Economist” writes that staying in the deal is also a possibility. The EU signatories to the deal have increasingly tried to keep and implement the JCPOA. A diplomatic source in Washington has told RIA Novosti that the EU has no plans to renegotiate the JCPOA with Iran.

Persia Digest has conducted an interview on the future of the Iran nuclear deal with Joshua H Pollack, Editor of The Nonproliferation Review and a Senior Research Associate.

You can read the interview here:

Are Trump’s recent decisions in appointing his new Foreign Minister and choosing John Bolton as National Security Advisor an indication that he may withdraw from the JCPOA? How will these US cabinet turnovers affect relations between Iran and the US in general, and the JCPOA in particular?

I don't know what role John Bolton or other presidential advisers are playing, but it is striking to see relatively pragmatic figures leaving the administration in favor of those with the reputation of ideologues. If the President wishes to stop waiving the Iran sanctions, of course, ultimately he will do so regardless of who surrounds him.

What lies behind EU reasons for keeping the JCPOA and their difference in behavior with Trump regarding the agreement?

President Trump dislikes the JCPOA for the same reason that he dislikes the Affordable Care Act; they represent the legacy of his predecessor, which he is determined to dismantle. I don't believe he has an in-depth understanding of either one. The EU, which played a crucial role in bringing the JCPOA about, does not make calculations in this manner.

If Trump withdraws from the JCPOA, how will the EU respond? Will it align itself with Trump?

The role of the EU in the P5+1 talks was to try to create a bridge between the US and Iran and avoid an armed conflict over Iran's nuclear program, very much in response to the lessons of the Iraq conflict. I assume they will continue to try to find ways to sustain that approach, although it's becoming harder than ever. If they have to appeal directly to the Iranians to stay within the terms of the JCPOA regardless of US actions in order to avoid being provoked into an open conflict, then I suspect they will do so.

Read more:

► EU will seek to preserve the JCPOA without US

The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has said those who say a US exit from the deal will send signals to North Korea that US commitments to its agreements cannot be relied upon are totally wrong; to the contrary, it will send the message that the US is ready for negotiations and will not accept a bad deal. She has stated: “A strong leadership towards Tehran will yield better results with Pyongyang.” How do you believe the Iran deal will affect talks with North Korea?

I do not believe there are any realistic prospects for a nuclear-related agreement with North Korea at this hour, so the fate of the JCPOA may be immaterial to that question. North Korea has already rejected the idea that the JCPOA offers a precedent for them.

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said: “Our enemies must know that if the JCPOA is overturned (albeit we do not pursue such a goal), our top officials can decide, under such special circumstances, to respond accordingly to those who withdraw from the deal.” Although Mr Salehi’s comments are not very lucid, but what is your opinion on a US withdrawal and the approach Iran should take? What options will Iran have?

I will refrain from suggesting how the government of Iran ought to proceed. But hopefully, they will not provide any pretext for the use of force. There is clearly a case to be made for reinforcing their partnerships with the Europeans, Russians, and Chinese at US expense by reaffirming their commitment to the JCPOA. Perhaps Mr. Salehi is taking a bargaining stance.

Stephen Walt, American professor of international relations at Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government, has written in his latest article in “Foreign Policy” that a war between Iran and the US is not probable; but the danger is higher here than it is with a US-N Korea war. Should the US decertify and destroy the JCPOA multilateral agreement, what do you think are the chances of a military confrontation between Iran and the US?

The odds of an armed conflict between the US and Iran, or between the US and North Korea, are difficult to estimate. But how Iran responds to the Trump administration's efforts to provoke it into resuming large-scale uranium enrichment, pushing out inspectors, etc., may make a real difference.

“Joshua H. Pollack is the Editor of the The Nonproliferation Review and a Senior Research Associate, and is recognized as a leading expert on nuclear and missile proliferation, focusing on Northeast Asia.”

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