MS Risk Blog

Revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action: what will happen if diplomatic talks fail?

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This report aims to talk about some potential consequences if diplomatic talks to reinstate the Iran Nuclear deal fail and how this could affect relationships between other global powers, mainly the United State and Iran, and the impact behind the likelihood of imposed sanctions upon Iran should talks collapse. Negotiations remain at a stalemate with neither side willing to compromise their national interests, despite countries maintaining that this deal is the best framework to address this situation.

In accordance with the JCPOA, signed by Iran and the P5 + 1, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) agreed to lift crippling economic sanctions if Iran agreed to limiting its nuclear activities and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unrestricted access to its factories with regular inspection. It also aimed at reducing much of Iran’s regional influence and moreover, relieve regional tensions between fellow rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In 2018, under the then-Trump administration, the United States had abandoned the deal and reinstated economic sanctions, claiming the deal failed in its aims and so initiated a pressure campaign hoping that Iran would negotiate a deal that would further limit their ballistic capabilities. Following the re-imposition of sanctions Iran has begun stockpiling uranium beyond the levels agreed in the deal, while also developing centrifuges, increasing its acceleration of uranium enrichment.

President Biden expressed his desire to re-join the deal last year; but the US and Iran have since remained in indirect negotiations to revive the JCPOA with talks repeatedly faltering. Tehran remains sceptical of the US’ ability to provide sanctions that would be of viable economic benefit and want a binding treaty, which realistically cannot be guaranteed for the following future administrations nor would be passed in Senate. On the other hand, Washington is questioning whether they can secure the deal’s previous non-proliferation demands, following Iran’s significant nuclear development. Talks are rapidly reaching a decision point as Iran’s continued HEU growth will eventually become unattainable under the JCPOA.

There is a consensus that this deal presents the ideal framework to tackle this issue, but allied countries have since been thinking of alternate plans should talks fail, such as full implementation of sanctions to military operations, which would impair Iran’s nuclear program. These all present drawbacks that are otherwise unfavourable in the long term.

If talks were to fail, it is very likely that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will receive full support to reimplement full sanctions against Iran, despite the US having already done so without UNSC backing. However, the impact of this is arguable as Iran has since continued trading with other countries, such as China and Russia, regardless of the imposed sanctions. China and Iran have also signed an agreement bolstering economic ties between them. The sanctions therefore may not be as effective if such a trade continues. It is not within China and Russia’s interests to have a power with unchecked nuclear capability nor is it clear how willing the countries are to risk their own global trade to ally themselves with Iran. Consequently, relations are being strained over this potentiality.

Regardless of sanctions, it is also unlikely that Iran will be hindered from continuing with their nuclear programs. They have repeatedly insisted that their program is not for weapons applications, but this is impossible to confirm as with the end of the deal, Iran would likely never allow the IAEA to inspect their facilities, thereby providing them the opportunity of plausible deniability. However, it is unlikely that the US or other countries would dismiss the potentiality of Iran gaining a nuclear weapon and is likely to take military action to prevent this.

Regionally, Israel has mentioned and is gearing for a possible military confrontation if talks are unsuccessful. Iran and Israel have maintained a tenuous relationship and remains on shaky ground amidst the possible negotiations; Israel has remained uncompromising in its position that the JCPOA is too lenient and has tried to push away from negotiations, claiming them as fruitless. Tensions continue to rise with military exercises taking place in Iran in a blatant intimidation in response to talks between the US and Israel defence chiefs concerning possible military exercises in a worst-case scenario. Thus, it is likely that there will be an escalation of conflict, which will result in the rest of region being embroiled in conflict.

An ideal outcome for the west would be a return to the JCPOA but this seems unlikely given the harsh sanctions already implemented by the United States; they will not remove them unless Iran concedes. A compromise with both moderate sanction relief and moderate nuclear compromise, otherwise known as a ‘less-for-less’ deal, is the approach that Iran hopes for, but this would receive heavy criticism from the west.