Iran nuclear deal can survive US withdrawal

By Niu Xinchun Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/5 21:03:39

Last month, US President Donald Trump said he will extend sanctions relief on Iran under a nuclear deal for the last time, threatening a US withdrawal from the pact if the US Congress and European allies cannot fix the significant flaws within 120 days.

The Trump administration called the deal an "embarrassment" and said the US will not honor it until it is "corrected." Obviously, Washington wants to address the Iran nuclear issue, which has come to a crossroad, completely.

The Iran nuclear deal faces three probable scenarios in the coming three months.

First, the pact that was signed in 2015 between Iran, the P5+1 countries - Russia, France, China, Britain, the US, plus Germany can be revised to a small extent under the framework of the deal, increasing the supervision efficiency of Iran. Meanwhile, Iran and the P5+1 can start a new round of negotiations on Tehran's missile programs and its Middle East policy. This is the best scenario as the deal would remain valid with other issues addressed through new channels. But this is difficult to achieve since it requires the cooperation, compromise and sincerity of all parties.

Second, the US Congress will revise the agreement unilaterally and substantively, seriously damaging the deal. In that case, Iran will exit the agreement, bringing an end to the historic accord.

Third, the US Congress and European countries will either not take effective steps or the measures they implement will not satisfy Trump within 120 days. Washington will then announce its official withdrawal and the deal perishes.

The seven signatories to the Iran deal have the mandate to decide its future. Recently, the US had intense discussions over the issue with Europe, trying to form a unified front among its close allies. In the meantime, Europe communicated with Iran in trying to be a bridge between Washington and Tehran. Iran wants Europe's support and simultaneously negotiates with China and Russia, trying to establish a unified front among them.

Since Trump took office, Washington has drifted further away from China, Europe, Russia and Iran, but the four have come relatively close. However, in the latest development, China, Russia and Europe didn't coordinate well enough to follow the changed scenario.

It is still possible to preserve the deal if China, Russia and Europe can maneuver the US and Iran toward the best scenario. Since the US triggered the Iran nuclear crisis, China, Russia and Europe should cooperate to establish new diplomatic mechanisms and negotiation channels. This can pressure Washington, preventing it from going too far up the wrong path, and minimize the repercussions if it comes to the worst scenario - the US withdrawal from the deal - keeping the essential part of the agreement.

China, Russia, Europe and Iran need to hold a formal multilateral meeting and announce that each of them will obey all the provisions of the deal irrespective of whether the US withdraws or not. In this way they can bring confidence to Iran. Such meetings will increase the moral pressure on US to think twice before withdrawal.

As long as China, Russia, Europe and Iran have a well-coordinated stance, the nuclear deal can survive without the US. Washington's unilateral withdrawal and restoration of sanctions on Iran will not considerably influence the country.

To avoid retaliations from the US, China, Russia and Europe should take precautions to counter American extraterritoriality. After all, the US may hit back when it finds itself in an awkward and isolated position after the withdrawal that won't hurt Iran.

To preserve the deal, we must depend on the governments of China, Russia and European countries. If they can work together, it will pose enormous challenge to American extraterritoriality, bringing an end to the US' unilateral sanctions.

The international society should deal with the Iran nuclear crisis proactively instead of sitting back and waiting. Now the US is working to draw Europe over to its side and driving a wedge between China, Russia, Europe and Iran. Iran, weak and eager for support, is unable to build a united front. In this context, it is time for China, Russia and Europe to work together and prepare for the Iran nuclear deal in a post-American world.

The author is director at the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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