by Tim Anderson, Director CCHS

The JCPOA, an ugly creature conceived in peculiar circumstances, lies dead in the morgue. But no-one is ready yet to collect the corpse and give it a proper burial.

As the US and some EU countries meet in Vienna to look for ways “to bring the deal back to life”, Iran has no real incentive to offer anything new.

Properly understood, the JCPOA never had anything to do with the control of nuclear weapons. Iran had foresworn them as haram, weapons so indiscriminate they could only be used for crimes against humanity.

Washington proved that when it launched its first atomic attacks on the non-military target cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and without military objectives, as imperial Japan was already broken. They were a first salvo in the Cold War, a warning to Stalin.

Iran had no nuclear weapons but Apartheid Israel, a living breathing crime against humanity, did. So the JCPOA was really an attempt to impose a partisan regime of surveillance and control over the leader of the West Asian resistance bloc.

Iran engaged on the promise of dropping an economic siege, because Washington had been empowered by support from the EU, Russia and China.

The real aim of the JCPOA was to gain leverage against and weaken the largest independent state of the region, in face of Washington’s ‘New Middle East’ plan, announced in Israel in 2006, which had the ambition of controlling the entire region.

Not long after the treaty was signed in 2015, Washington under Trump reneged on the deal. The Europeans were paralysed, disagreeing with Trump but without the will to oppose him. Iran was then the only party to comply, but has since gradually reduced its commitments.

In the US there are now three currents of thought: one backs the Trump line, wanting to oppose Iran more directly, but without the will or capacity to start a major war; a second ‘liberal’ current wants a return to the 2015 agreement, albeit with Iran accepting some blame for ‘non-compliance’; while a third wants to revise the JCPOA, adding new controls over missile technology, even bringing in third parties like the Saudis. That is just absurd.

The problem with the second idea is that Washington has burnt all its political capital. It has zero support from Russia and China, both of which now have much stronger relations with Tehran. The Europeans, for their part, are ambivalent at best.

Iran actually met all its obligations and has only retreated from them under terms set out in the treaty itself. It now declares that it will do nothing more until sanctions are lifted, and it has no real incentive to change this position. Having tried a ‘maximum pressure siege’, assassinations and terrorism, Washington has already done its worst.

At a political level, because the exercise is one of leverage rather than legality, the Biden administration will find it virtually impossible to return to the 2015 conditions, without extracting some concessions from Iran. But how? It has little to offer and no real allies, except Israel and the Saudis, who have no influence on Tehran.

On the Iranian side there are also several currents. One liberal current still holds some hope in the economic promise of ‘return’ to a liberal world. That current, always a pipe dream, was seriously damaged by Trump ripping up what was, after all, always a humiliating treaty for Iran. Another current was against the agreement in the first place. A third perhaps saw the earlier process as necessary under duress, but one which should be looked at differently, in changed circumstances. Elections set for June may help clarify the weight of these currents.

The western contradictions are profound. The Israeli regime fears a new Iran deal, and US disengagement from the region, while liberal US analysts fear this limited leverage tool may disappear entirely, under any ambitious renegotiation plan.

The Europeans, for their part, have proposed and even set up alternatives to the US dominated SWIFT system, precisely to block the now huge array of US unilateral ‘sanctions’, aimed at dozens of countries, but little has come of the European initiatives.

The initiative for a new financial architecture is far more likely to come from the east. China now has a massive strategic and economic deal with Iran, and has also just launched the Digital Yuan, which will create a parallel to international transactions in US dollars. That further weakens Washington’s hand.

In Iran, neither the President nor the Leader have shown any sign of offering concessions to a rogue regime which has wrought havoc across West Asia. Both the Leader and Foreign Minister Zarif have called the 2015 agreement a ‘mistake’. Ayatollah Khamenei says ‘after the US takes practical steps to comply we will follow suit’.

He has called Biden’s bluff.