by Sara Massoumi
One year has passed since Iran and the P5+1 group reached an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); an agreement, which put an end to more than one decade of tension between the two sides over Iran’s nuclear program and turned into an important model for peaceful resolution of a difference. Etemad Persian daily journalist, Sara Massoumi has interviewed Amb. Peter Jenkins in this regard and the issues related to it. Peter Jenkins joined the British Diplomatic Service in 1973. Throughout his 33-year career, Amb. Jenkins served on different missions in Vienna, Washington, D.C., Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. From 2001 to 2006, he was the UK Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency and UN organizations in Vienna. He retired in 2006, but continues to comment on international political issues, especially Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Jenkins contributes to Lobelog.com and other online and print publications worldwide. He has been a vocal advocate of peaceful talks between Iran and the global powers to find a negotiated solution to the nuclear crisis.
In this interview with Sara Massoumi, Amb. Peter Jenkins responded to her questions about Iran and P5+1 commitments under the JCPOA, implementation of the agreement, EU commercial transactions with Iran, survival of the JCPOA, violation of the JCPOA, US presidential race and implementation of the nuclear deal, non-nuclear sanctions, Iran-UK bilateral ties, and Iran’s regional measures.
Q: Over the past year, the US was the only party that failed to or did not want to fulfill its commitments to remove obstacles for normalization of commerce with Iran. Recently, the Speaker of the House of Representatives has complained that the White House has turned into “the Islamic Republic’s top global lobbying shop”. At the moment, do you find Washington’s arguments and elaborations on the nuclear deal offered to banks and financial institutions sufficient? If Iran files a complaint to the Joint Commission, is it possible that the commission issues a verdict in favor of Iran?
A: I realize the importance of European banks re-engaging with Iranian counter-parts. So I am concerned that so far many of them have failed to do so. It is clear that their reluctance is largely due to fear of inadvertently transgressing US laws and regulations and incurring massive fines. It surprises me that the US did not foresee this problem during the JCPOA negotiation and that the administration has been unable to resolve it. It would be unjust, though, as far as I can judge, to fault the administration for lacking the will to resolve it. I think it is the complexity of the problem and Congressional hostility to Iran that are to blame.
More blameworthy is the administration’s failure to enable Iran to access previously frozen oil revenues. Easy solutions to this problem have been on hand. The administration has lacked the political will to implement one of them. Perhaps it will find the will after November’s US elections. The Joint Commission can be used to discuss and find solutions to implementation issues. These banking issues seem to me ripe for submission to the Joint Commission. Only good can come of that.
Q: You have insisted in an interview once that the JCPOA is a political agreement reached between the sides, not a legal instrument legislated in the countries involved. Don’t you think the very non-existence of a legal enforcement guarantee can facilitate the violation of the JCPOA for every government in the next nine years? How big are the political consequences of violating the JCPOA for each of the sides in P5+1 group of countries?
A: Political agreements can be as effective as legally binding agreements. They rely on self-interest and cost/benefit calculations. For the foreseeable future all parties to the JCPOA look to me to have a strong interest in sustaining an agreement that is building confidence in Iran’s nuclear intentions, ensuring that Iran’s nuclear activities are transparent, enabling Europe to resume normal relations with Iran, and offering economic benefits to Iran.
Allowing or causing the agreement to unravel would jeopardize all these benefits. In addition it would open the door to renewed pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia for a US assault on Iran.
Q: One of the present concerns among the P5+1 group of countries is the US Presidential elections. Hilary Clinton proclaims herself as the architect of the nuclear sanctions and the toughest Resolution, 1929, was issued during her tenure. On the other hand, she is a democrat and protecting the JCPOA, as a legacy of her fellow democrat, is somewhat her mission too. In the meantime, we should take into account her very close ties with Israeli lobbies. What kind of approach will she eventually adopt toward Iran given these paradoxes of costs and benefits in implementation of the deal?
A: I am concerned by Ms Clinton’s uncritical liking for the current Prime Minister of Israel and his right-wing government. I am also concerned by the hawkish nature of her record on foreign policy issues, and I am unsure that she will feel any inclination, still less obligation to protect the legacy of President Obama, from some of whose policies she has sought to distance herself.
So I think that all of us who value the JCPOA have cause to feel concern about the implications of a Clinton presidency. The best hope that I can see is that the non-partisan career professional element in the US national security bureaucracy will succeed in persuading Ms Clinton, if and when she becomes President, that sustaining the JCPOA is in the national interest. One positive thing about her could be that she is not totally indifferent to US national interests. Even so, there is a risk that professional advice will be negated by the hawkish, pro-Israeli political appointees who are likely to surround her.
Q: One of the most controversial issues in Iran is the consequences of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and its impact on the implementation of the JCPOA and Iran-UK bilateral ties. Some say the UK’s presence in the EU could serve as a control for the country’s coalition with the next US administration against Iran. Do you agree with such an interpretation? How does the Brexit affect bilateral relations between Tehran and London?
A: It is premature to assume that the UK will withdraw from the EU. It is possible that the 27 will interpret article 50 of the treaty in such a way that withdrawal would cause grave damage to the British economy and that this will cause the British government to reconsider whether withdrawal is in the national interest.
Inany case a withdrawal negotiation is expected to require years, not months, and until it is completed the UK will remain a member of the EU.
UK withdrawal is unlikely to affect the EU position on JCPOA implementation. The EU will continue to have a strong economic and non-proliferation interest in sustaining the agreement.
If at some point, after UK withdrawal, EU and US policies were to diverge in relation to the JCPOA, there is a likelihood that the UK under a Conservative government would be drawn into the US orbit. Under a Labour or coalition government, the US gravitational pull could well be weaker.
Q: After the nuclear deal, the focus of Iranophobia has changed for some regional players and of course for the United States, as they have included Iran’s regional measures on the agenda. How likely is it that with the new President taking office in the US, anti-Iran non-nuclear sanctions become intensified on the pretext of Iran’s regional measures? To what extent will this threaten the survival of the nuclear deal? Will the Europeans join the US in doing so even at the cost of breaking the JCPOA?
A: I have to say that the first part of this question is unanswerable at this point. So much will depend on the political complexion of the next Congress, on the identity of the next president, and on the identity of his or her closest advisers. It seems inevitable that there will be pressure for further non-nuclear sanctions, on one pretext or another. But that pressure may not be irresistible if the White House has a will to resist.
The second part of the question is easier. The EU was ready to make an economic sacrifice to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons by imposing sanctions. I have difficulty imagining a non-nuclear concern that would prompt the EU to repeat that sacrifice and put at risk Iranian implementation of the JCPOA.
Republished, with permission, from Iran Review.
Sara Massoumi is a journalist with the Persian daily, Etemad .