A time to think fast: on the US exit from the Iran deal

A time to think fast: on the US exit from the Iran deal

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American President Donald Trump’s
 decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action 
(JCPOA), popularly called the Iran nuclear deal, is bound to have 
serious implications for the international system, and for India. To be 
sure, the least affected will be the U.S.; European Union countries will
 be moderately affected due to the business ties with Iran; and the most
 affected will be countries closer to the region, in particular India. 
Moreover, for a U.S. administration that has made it a habit of accusing
 other countries of “undermining the rules-based order”, this action has
 severely undermined the rules-based global order.

Unreasonable act

Washington’s decision is unjustified and
 unreasonable for several reasons. For one, the International Atomic 
Energy Agency (IAEA) has consistently maintained that Tehran has 
complied with the strictures of the JCPOA without fail. Moreover, Iran 
has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which prohibits it
 from developing nuclear weapons and has agreed to ratify the IAEA’s 
Additional Protocol five years from now which will grant IAEA inspectors
 wide-ranging access to monitor nuclear-related activities in Iran. And 
yet Mr. Trump has thoughtlessly undone the outcome of negotiations that 
went on for close to two years.

Second, the argument that since the 
provisions of the JCPOA will become less strict over the years enabling 
Iran to move towards nuclear-weapon capability is not a credible 
rationale for undoing the deal. In fact, if indeed there are concerns 
about Iran potentially moving towards a nuclear option, efforts should 
be made to engage Tehran in negotiations rather than undo what has 
already been achieved. This is a classic case of throwing the baby out 
with the bathwater.

With regard to Iran’s involvement in the various West Asian conflicts and “promotion of terrorism”,
 Iran is not the only country engaging in them. And in any case the way 
out, again, is diplomatic engagement rather than further unsettle an 
already volatile region.

The implications

The global non-proliferation regime has 
taken a direct hit from the U.S.’s decision to renege on the Iran deal. 
It is important to understand that norms, rules, persuasion and good 
faith make up the moral foundation of the non-proliferation regime, and 
the inability of the great powers to abide by them will dissuade 
non-nuclear weapons states from signing on to or abiding by new or 
existing agreements, protocols or regimes. Second, even though Mr. Trump
 might think that playing hardball with Tehran will help him to extract 
concessions from Pyongyang, it is equally possible that the North 
Koreans will think twice before entering into any agreement with the 
untrustworthy Trump administration.

Third, Washington’s unilateral and 
dictatorial withdrawal from the deal would create deep fissures in the 
time-tested but increasingly shaky trans-Atlantic security partnership. 
Not least because it implies potential secondary sanctions against those
 European companies which are engaged in business deals with Iran. Here 
again, the U.S. does not have much to lose given its almost non-existent
 business contacts with Iran.

Besides, Mr. Trump’s Iran decision 
follows a pattern of similar unilateral steps — such as the withdrawal 
from the Paris climate accord and formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s
 capital. Let alone the loss of face suffered by European leaders and 
the financial losses by their countries’ firms, U.S. unilateralism has 
deep-running implications for the global security and governance 
architecture, and other multilateral arrangements and regimes. It is in 
this context that what French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said 
becomes significant: “The deal is not dead. There’s an American 
withdrawal from the deal, but the deal is still there.” The argument has
 found support in several global capitals.

Hassan Rouhani, the moderate President 
of Iran, who negotiated the nuclear deal, might lose his standing in the
 country as hardliners pitch for more aggressive steps, including 
developing a nuclear weapon capability and more military engagement in 
the neighborhood. The chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Maj. 
Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, has said that the “Iranian people never favored 
the nuclear deal”. This is an indication of the hardline Iranian 
responses in the offing as and when sanctions are reimposed.

Iran’s refusal to fall in line might 
prompt Israel and the U.S. to carry out attacks against Iran leading to 
Iranian counter-strikes against American allies in the region, or even 
Israel. This would further destabilize a region already reeling under 
terrorism, wars and internal conflicts. Americans, and the international
 community, should remember how the misguided military campaign against 
the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq turned out to be a huge geopolitical disaster.

India’s Persian dilemmas

While the U.S. has almost nothing to 
lose in reneging on the JCPOA, India has a lot to lose both economically
 and geopolitically, and it will take deft diplomacy to adapt to the 
changing alignments. A more unstable West Asia would ipso facto mean 
more difficult choices for New Delhi. More conflict in the region would 
adversely impact the welfare and safety of Indian expatriates in West 
Asia, leading to a sharp decline in the remittances they send home, and 
an assured hike in oil prices. Low crude oil prices had given India the 
much-needed economic cushion in the past few years — that phase of 
cheaper oil has now ended. Recall how the U.S. war on Iraq had a 
debilitating impact on Indian workers and the West Asian remittances. 
India also had to abandon the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline in 2008 
thanks to U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The Narendra Modi
 government’s efforts to maintain a fine balance between India’s 
relations with Iran on the one hand and with the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia
 on the other will be seriously tested in the days ahead. The new warmth
 between Iran and India could attract American ire. What is even more 
worrying is that unlike the last time when the U.S. imposed sanctions on
 Iran, and India had to choose the U.S. over Iran, the geopolitical 
realities are starkly different this time. Not only are the Americans 
going it alone this time, but the regional ganging-up against the U.S. 
and in support of Iran will be more pronounced this time around, making 
India’s ability to make a clear choice more difficult.

India’s dreams of accessing Central Asia
 via Iran could also be dashed with the return of American sanctions 
against Iran. India’s projects in Iran’s Chabahar port have been widely 
viewed in New Delhi as a crucial plank of its Iran-Afghanistan-Central
 Asia strategy. With U.S. sanctions again tightening around Tehran, New 
Delhi may find it hard to continue with this project. As a matter of 
fact, thanks partly to India’s dilly-dallying on Chabahar during the 
previous round of U.S. sanctions against Iran, Iran had invited Pakistan
 to the Chabahar project. Some have even suggested a potential link 
between Chabahar and Gwadar in Pakistan.


Given that there is little consensus 
around Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, several of the dissenting 
parties might look for ways of thwarting U.S. efforts at isolating Iran.
 Such efforts, especially those led by China and Russia,
 both parties to the JCOPA, would have implications for the Southern 
Asian region as well. If indeed China manages to bring together a group 
of regional powers, including Russia, Iran, Pakistan and interested 
others, to counter Washington’s influence in the region, New Delhi might
 find itself in a corner.


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