The Twittersphere has been buzzing about it for months, so it was no surprise when President Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement on 8th May.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a landmark deal reached in 2015. It set limits on Iran developing a nuclear programme, in return for economic sanctions being lifted. Signed by the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the EU too, it came into force after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Iran had put the agreed measures into operation.
The US State Department declared: “As a result of Iran verifiably meeting its nuclear commitments, the United States and the EU have lifted nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, as described in the JCPOA.”
The deal guards against Iran developing a secret nuclear arms programme by requiring it to:
* restrict uranium enrichment,
* render inoperable its heavy-water reactor (because these types produce a weapons-grade plutonium by-product),
* limit the numbers and types of centrifuges in operation, and the size of the enriched uranium it stores, and
* allow inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog.
To this day, the IAEA maintains that Iran is in compliance. This is also the view of some serious JCPOA-watchers. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the other hand, claims that the US was “already in violation” of its side of the deal by the time it withdrew.
Trump apparently is pulling out of a limited agreement on the grounds that he can’t have the whole kaboodle. Or has the Middle East Forum, which operates under the banner ‘Promoting American interests,’ hit the nail on the head? It argues the JCPOA is not in US interests as it doesn’t “constrain its malignant activities on the regional level” – that is, Iran’s influence in Syria and ability to threaten Israel militarily.
Elsewhere, it looks as if the US summit with North Korea is also unravelling. Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore on 12th June is under threat for similar reasons.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in played a blinder with his Winter Olympics initiative. Kim’s sister performed no less skilfully when she took the lead in the PyeongChang talks that set North Korea and the US on the path Singapore. Progress on opening negotiations saw Kim Jong-un announce a nuclear freeze.
At the end of April, he confirmed that North Korea was suspending ballistic missile tests with immediate effect and shutting down the site where nuclear weapon testing took place. “We no longer need any nuclear test or test launches of intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles, and because of this the northern nuclear test site has finished its mission,” Kim is quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency.
A US research institute recently announced that satellite images provide the first evidence that North Korea has started to dismantle the Punggye-ri site used for six underground nuclear tests. But these initiatives are faltering.
No signs of nuclear good will on Washington’s part have been forthcoming. Instead, eleven days of joint military exercises between the US and South Korea have begun, with 1,500 troops engaged in aircraft carrier, fighter jet and advanced military drills.
Kim has denounced them as a provocation, the meeting between the two Koreas has been cancelled, and North Korean state media has circulated an ominous statement by First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan: “If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment,” he said, Pyongyang will have to “reconsider” its participation in the Singapore summit.
Clearly denucleariston negotiations mean one thing to the US, and something else entirely to the rest of us. If the parties concerned don’t trust each other, step by step agreements make sense – but only if your goal is denuclearisation.
In March 1992, the New York Times published an article entitled “Pentagon’s new world order,” based on a leaked Pentagon document. In the post-cold war era it explained, the US sought “to ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia, or the territory of the former Soviet Union.”. Is this what’s happening here?
Vice Chair, Labour CND