Four years after signing, the Iran nuclear deal teeters on the brink

iran deal
Photo: Bundesministerium für Europa

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the signature of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—known as the Iran nuclear deal—by the US, UK, Germany, France, China and Russia.

Once hailed the ‘deal of the century’, the nuclear accord lies in tatters following President Donald Trump’s May 2018 decision to withdraw the United States from the agreement. More recently, Iran has deliberately exceeded uranium enrichment levels allowed under the deal in what’s generally regarded as a negotiating tactic. Meanwhile, Mr Trump this week tweeted that Washington would implement stronger sanctions on Iran’s banking, oil and metal sectors as tensions between the two countries flare.

Attempting to maintain the deal, European partners have urged Iran to reverse its violations and promised to provide economic benefits countering the sanctions. This has led to the establishment of INSTEX, a payments channel designed to allow European firms to continue trading with Iran despite US sanctions. However, its effectiveness has been limited and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has threatened to reopen nuclear centrifuges and enrich uranium further if the economic situation does not improve.

Most recently, France has emerged as leading a “de-escalation” strategy. President Emmanuel Macron’s top foreign policy adviser held talks with the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. Whether these efforts are able to save the nuclear deal will depend primarily on the ability to restore some normality to Iranian trade, and thus to its economy.

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