Iran no more needs to revive the JCPOA: senior researcher

US and Iranian diplomates meet to revive Iran nuclear deal

TEHRAN- A Singaporean researcher believes Tehran no more needs to revive the JCPOA because the economic incentives that Iran hopes from the deal cannot be achieved.

“Iran does not need reviving the JCPOA, regardless of its relationship with Russia and China,” Asif Shuja tells the Tehran Times.

“This is because the kind of economic incentives that Iran hopes from the revival of the JCPOA cannot be achieved unless the Iran-U.S. relation is fundamentally changed.”

Asif Shuja a senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore believes that” any engagement of Iran-U.S. should be seen from that broader perspective rather than merely hinging on the JCPOA revival.”
Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you evaluate the recent round of nuclear talks between Iran and the U.S. in Doha?

A: The recent round of “proximity talks” between Iran and the U.S. in Doha may be considered a game-changer for the Middle East (West Asia) geopolitics. This is as close as it gets to direct negotiations between Iran and the USA, with the adopted format giving it a façade of indirect talks, which was merely meant as a face-saving formula for the leaderships of both countries. Regardless of the content of the discussions between the two parties, what is notable is that Iran and the U.S. have started their unique bilateral political engagement for the first time in years. Doha is likely to serve as a platform for such discussions between Iran and the U.S. and the subject matter of discussion is likely to be much wider than Iran’s nuclear program or the resurrection of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The outcome of these discussions would shape Iran-U.S.’s joint approach to the Middle East (West Asia) challenges.

Q: Iran and the U.S. accused each other of bringing the talks to a stalemate. Is that a blame game or both sides are trying to extract most concessions?

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A: The current pause in the Vienna nuclear talks is due to multiple reasons, the primary being the evolving geopolitics of the Middle East (West Asia) region, especially under the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war. Both Iran and the U.S. have pursued their own geopolitical goals in Vienna under the rubric of the nuclear talks, and in Doha, they are likely to do the same under the rubric of proximity talks. The final understanding between them would be the result of the eventual calculation of their respective geopolitical gains.

Since the geopolitical dynamics are fast-changing, it becomes difficult to determine those gains, and hence the resultant delay in breakthrough. The moment the U.S. successfully determines that it is in its own national interests to engage with Iran, the breakthrough would be achieved. But the domestic politics in the U.S. is deterring the Biden administration from expressly articulating what has been obvious all along.

Q: To what extent does America need to revive the JCPOA in light of the Ukraine war and the price of oil?

A: On a cursory look, it appears that in light of the Ukraine war and the price of oil America would need to revive the JCPOA. However, that presupposes that the energy problem of Europe is the problem of the U.S. as well. However, that is not really the case, and that is why European Union is more proactive to solve the Iran nuclear impasse than anyone else. So, it would not be wise to take it as given that due to the Ukraine crisis, the U.S. would be inclined to give concessions to Iran. Even when we omit the factor of the Russia-Ukraine war for a moment, it will become obvious that the U.S. has little incentive to give concessions to Iran. The apparent primary objective of the JCPOA was to stop nuclear proliferation, which could best be considered a global objective. Now that the U.S. is more inward-looking and in the process of shedding its global role, it does not feel incentivized to think much about such global objectives. Even if we consider the whole idea of nuclear proliferation as merely a tool in the hands of great power to constrict the emerging powers, the US will not care much as Iran is not much of a direct threat to the US. It is Israel that feels more threatened by the idea of a nuclear Iran and now the U.S.-Israel relationship has changed in a way wherein the U.S. is no more interested in getting into the Middle East (West Asian) conflicts even for the sake of its closest regional allies.

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Q: How do you see the position of Persian Gulf Arab states towards reviving the JCPOA? While countries like Qatar and Oman welcome it, Saudi Arabia seems to be a harsh opponent of revitalizing the nuclear deal.

A: For answering this question, it is pertinent to highlight the geopolitics behind nuclear proliferation as played out by the powerful states. While the sincerity of concerned individuals in terms of the threats of nuclear proliferation cannot be questioned, in the hands of powerful states, especially the nuclear powers, this issue is merely a tool to stop the emergence of new challenges. The nuclear status gives any state immense geopolitical leverage on a global scale and the emergence of new nuclear powers threatens the status quo preserved by the nuclear powers. The immediate effect of such developments is the decisive change in power and status among the regional rivals. So, Saudi Arabia being the most potent regional rival to Iran feels most threatened by the idea of the revival of the JCPOA as this deal does not completely stop Iran’s nuclear journey but merely delays it from crossing the nuclear threshold. Thus, countries such as Qatar and Oman which are friendlier to Iran welcome the JCPOA resurrection, while Saudi Arabia stands as a harsh opponent of revitalizing the nuclear deal.

Q: Do you think that Iran needs to revive the JCPOA in light of its strategic partnerships with Russia and China?

A: Iran does not need to revive the JCPOA, regardless of its relationship with Russia and China. This is because the kind of economic incentives that Iran hopes for from the revival of the JCPOA cannot be achieved unless the Iran-U.S. relation is fundamentally changed. This is the reason any engagement of Iran-U.S. should be seen from that broader perspective rather than merely hinging on the JCPOA revival. As far as Russia and China are concerned, they forged strategic partnerships with Iran for their own benefits. One should not forget that these countries were equal participants with the US in voting in favor of the four rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran. On the other hand, Iran’s march in the nuclear field is meant to enhance its own security and strength, and the stronger and more secured it is, the more partners it is likely to earn internationally. While Iran’s nuclear advancements will remain as its intrinsic value, its international partnerships, including with Russia and China, would be dependent on prevalent geopolitical conditions. It would not be outlandish to assume that Russia and China would be easily inclined to do away with their strategic partnerships with Iran in lieu of bigger and better offers from elsewhere. That is the fundamental premise of international relations.

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