Impasse at the UN on the fate of the Iranian nuclear agreement

Ⓒ POOL/AFP – Craig Ruttle – | Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (G), British ambassador Karen Pierce (2G), British politician Alistair Burt (3G), US diplomat Rex Tillerson (5G) European diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini (7D), Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (5D) and other officials at a meeting at the United Nations in New York on 20 September 2017

The signatories of the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement met on Wednesday in a tense atmosphere at the UN, for the first time since the election of Donald Trump, failed to break the deadlock caused by the US threat to denounce the text.

In a climate made more explosive every day by the incendiary statements of the US president against Iran, American diplomats Rex Tillerson and Iranian Mohammad Javad Zarif met in the same room for the first time.

With them, the other signatories of the historic agreement of Vienna: Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany.

The meeting, which lasted more than an hour, was “difficult”, according to a European source, according to which MM. Tillerson and Zarif had a fairly long “direct exchange”. “The tone was very concrete, there were no shouts, we did not launch shoes on,” assured the US Secretary of State, judging “useful to hear” the views of others parts.

Ⓒ AFP – Brendan Smialowski – | US diplomat Rex Tillerson at a press conference at the United Nations on 20 September 2017 in New York

The head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini, who chairs the Monitoring Committee, underlined at the end of the meeting that all the participants had agreed “to judge that the text has so far been respected by all”.

“The agreement is working,” she said. “We already have a nuclear crisis, we do not need a second one,” she added, referring to North Korea, in the midst of international anxieties.

The 2015 text imposes strict restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for lifting sanctions, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly assessed Tehran’s compliance with its commitments.

But Donald Trump, who devotes to the grimonies this text, “one of the worst transactions in which the United States has ever entered,” threatens to denounce it.

By October 15, he must “certify” before the US Congress that Tehran is meeting its commitments. If it does not do so, it will reopen a re-imposition of sanctions yet raised in the text, and its decision would amount to a “political death” of the agreement, according to diplomats.

The meeting on Wednesday did not remove the doubt about the US intentions: “we have no real visibility on what their decision will be,” according to the European source.

The statements that followed the meeting do not incite optimism: the United States “have big problems” with the agreement, confirmed Rex Tillerson.

– Renegotiate? –

In an attempt to coax the Americans, the idea of ​​reopening discussions on some of the deadlines of the agreement and on related issues, such as Iran’s role in the Middle East, was raised by some, including the president French Emmanuel Macron.

The nuclear agreement is not “sufficient”, given “the growing pressure that Iran is exerting in the region,” he said Wednesday.

The French president also cited “Iran’s increased ballistic activity” (a component that is not part of the 2015 agreement), which he said could give rise to new sanctions.

It will also be necessary to “open a discussion on the post-2025”, date when the first restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program fall. This deadline, “unacceptable” for President Trump, is provided for in the 2015 agreement, which covers a period of 25 years.

French diplomats insisted that it was not a question of “renegotiating” the agreement but of “completing it”.

But Iranian President Hassan Rohani, present at the UN General Assembly, has showered hopes of reopening debates: discussing with an American government that would choose to “flout its international commitments” would be a “waste of time”, “he warned. According to him, “every word of every least sentence” of the nuclear agreement has already been bitterly negotiated by the signatories and “to remove a single brick would collapse the whole edifice”.

The head of European diplomacy was also very clear: no need to “renegotiate” the agreement.

“The object of the nuclear agreement is linked to the nuclear program,” she said, and in this regard “the agreement works”.

“There are other issues outside the scope of this agreement, and these topics can be discussed in other fora,” for example bilaterally, she said.

– Pyongyang ‘watch closely’ –

Several diplomats are also concerned about the negative repercussions of a US volte-face on Iran, while the international community is still hoping to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table to make it renounce its own nuclear ambitions.

According to Stewart Patrick, a researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, “North Koreans are watching closely how Iran is being treated,” to see “what would be their fate if they ever wanted to give up their nuclear weapons.”

Behnam Ben Taleblu, of the conservative lobby group Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who is very critical of the Iranian agreement, believes that a “tough line against Tehran” would reinforce the “credibility of the United States” force in any future negotiations with North Korea.

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