Iran’s Options if U.S. Abandons Nuclear Deal

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Oct 6, 2017
Iran’s Options if U.S. Abandons Nuclear Deal

An article in state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (I.R.N.A.) analyzes Tehran’s options if the United States unilaterally abandons the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the nuclear agreement Iran signed with world powers in July 2015. It points out that the Trump administration appears to be refusing to certify Iran’s compliance with the J.C.P.O.A. despite objections from the other signatories of the deal – Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China. While de-certification does not mean Washington is leaving the deal, “it is considered a step toward unraveling it,” the article warns. According to the analysis, the Trump administration is throwing the future of J.C.P.O.A. in doubt in order to “seek concessions from Tehran, preparing the ground for countering Iran in the region, and promoting domestic propaganda for Trump.”

Discussing Iran’s options on how to respond if Washington re-imposes nuclear-related sanctions on the country, the article says Tehran will refer the case to the joint commission consisting of all signatories of the deal as well as to the United Nations Security Council. Furthermore, Tehran will take appropriate and proportionate measures to retaliate against U.S. breaches. “Iran’s step-by-step plans and response to U.S. actions necessitate cooperating with other members of 5+1 Group in legal matters and convince non-American sides that… Washington will be held responsible and pay the price for violating J.C.P.O.A,” it continued. The article warns that Iran could resume some of its nuclear activities proportionate to U.S. actions.

Comment: President Donald Trump is expected to de-certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal as early as next week. De-certification means U.S. Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to stay in the deal and continue to waive nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, or re-impose the sanctions and literally walk away from accord.

If Washington leaves the deal, Iran is mulling two options: 1) stay in the deal and work with European countries, China, Russia and other international partners to “isolate” Washington and minimize the impact of U.S. sanctions; or 2) leave the deal and resume high-level enrichment. As the article suggests, Tehran may even observe parts of the deal to appease Europeans and take “proportionate” retaliatory measures, including resumption of some level of enrichment.

The top Iranian nuclear official warned in August that his country can resume high-level uranium enrichment within days if the Trump administration annuls the nuclear agreement. “This is not an empty threat,” Ali Akbar Salehi said. Salehi claimed that Iran can enrich uranium to 20 percent within five days at the Fordo Fuel Enrichment Plant, and pointed out that preserving the Fordo facility was one key strength of the nuclear accord. “They were insisting we shut down Fordo,” he added. He further noted that Iran prefers to stick to the deal but not at any cost, warning that the Islamic Republic’s response would “surprise” the violators of the accord.

The Rouhani government appears to be preferring to stay in the deal even if Washington walks away from it. But if it chooses to do so, it will come under tremendous pressure from hardliners who opposed the deal at the first place.