The Revival of JCPOA Is the Beginning of Crisis Management

The fate of the Vienna talks to revive JCPOA has become one of the most challenging subjects of Iran’s domestic politics and diplomacy. The final result of these talks is very important for both Hassan Rouhani and Biden, each of them dealing with tough opponents inside their countries. Rouhani’s last days of being in his office and Biden’s decisive decision to settle this case during his first days of presidency, pushes these talks forward with an extra pace.

Policy-making can be summarized in process of choosing between options that often do not have a clear preference over each other. When Biden administration came to power, it faced a situation in which not only Trump administration but also Iran had destroyed JCPOA. If Iran had continued to comply with its obligations under this agreement a year and a half before Mr. Biden came to power, the US return to the JCPOA could have been much easier; a part of the Biden administration’s early days plan without any particular complexity.

On the other hand, Trump’s administration deliberately had added layers to the sanctions on Iran in order to increase the political cost of returning to the JCPOA for Biden’s administration. Thus, Biden’s government officials faced difficult circumstances, and in the first few weeks there was lots of debates inside the US government on the subject that should US return to JCPOA or start a brand-new version of JCPOA II. In the end, they concluded that there was no choice but to use JCPOA as a bridge to a longer and stronger agreement. So they decided to return to this agreement, although this return had faced many problems.

More importantly, alternatives to returning to JCPOA are less attractive to both countries. For Iran, failure to return to JCPOA means that sanctions will continue and Iran’s economic situation will remain poor in the middle of the fourth Corona wave. An alternative for the United States is that Iran’s nuclear program, which is now growing exponentially, will continue to face issues such as 60 percent enrichment and advanced centrifuges. Therefore, the countries concluded that finding a way to revive JCPOA is more reasonable than other options.

It is not a question of a primary agreement now, it is a question of how much progress can be made in reaching a roadmap to return to JCPOA, and whether this roadmap can be completed or implemented in Rouhani’s government.

Of course, there is still no definite answer to these questions, and the main reason is the inflexibility of the Iranian side. This inflexibility also goes back to Iran’s negative experience in implementing JCPOA, which has made them more rigid and tied to the issue of elections in Iran.

Given last year’s parliamentary elections and the widespread disqualification of candidates, it seems that the main body of power in Iran seeks to establish the system as pure as possible before the issue of Ayatollah Khamenei’s succession is raised, and reconstruct the victory of the fundamentalists in the parliamentary elections in the presidential elections as well. In this sense, they do not want the success in Vienna to have a big impact on the election environment. For now, they have put maximum conditions on the negotiating table so that they can delay the negotiations with this tactic.

At this time, it is unclear that what sort of benefits Iran can receive from its neighbors if it agrees to limit its missile program. The talks have not yet moved in the direction of effectively discussing disarmament issues.

There has been a serious diplomatic vacuum in the region in recent years, and countries need to start from nothing to eventually move on to more difficult issues such as geostrategic competition and conventional weapons balance issues.

The missile issue should not be considered a short-term priority. The short-term priority is to establish communication channels and start a degree of interaction that could eventually lead to talks on more sensitive issues such as Iran’s missile program and the conventional weapons of the Gulf Arab states.

In any case, reducing tensions between Iran and the Gulf states is not necessarily to Israel’s detriment. Now, Israeli tourists who want to visit the UAE face much less security threats. This is also the case on a larger scale, such as Israeli investment in these countries.

The Biden administration does not seek to expand Israel’s relationship with the Arabs from the perspective of the Trump administration, it does not seek to weaken and blockade Iran by expanding those relations. Iran also knows that it must pursue more balanced policies in the region as a whole, and that the escalating Cold War between Israel and Iran could ultimately lead to the poisoning of Iranian-Arab talks and fail them. Therefore, these components will help two countries to move towards finding solutions that lead to crisis management.

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Freelance Middle East Analyst and Researcher

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Ahmad Al Jabbouri

Ahmad Al Jabbouri

Freelance Middle East Analyst and Researcher

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