Create Environment for U.S. to Return to Iran Nuclear Deal

The Iran nuclear deal is significant in that it deters Iran from possessing nuclear weapons and eases tensions in the Middle East. The countries concerned should make every diplomatic effort to ensure that the administration of incoming U.S. President Joe Biden returns to the agreement.

The nuclear agreement between Iran and the six countries of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia was concluded in 2015 at the initiative of the administration of then President Barack Obama. In exchange for Iran significantly reducing its uranium enrichment activities, the United States, Europe and other countries and regions lifted oil embargoes and financial sanctions against Iran.

The agreement is highly regarded for having placed Iran’s nuclear facilities under the monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and created a framework in which it would take more than a year to complete the production of nuclear weapons even if Iran starts to produce them.

The issue was reignited after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions against Iran. In response, Iran stepped up its enrichment activities in violation of the agreement, and the exchange of hard-line measures has continued.

It must be said that Trump’s policy of applying “maximum pressure” on Iran and aiming for a new agreement that would more strictly limit its nuclear development has failed.

President-elect Biden plans to return to the nuclear deal, but the road ahead is rocky. It is necessary to keep in mind how the U.S.-Iran relationship has deteriorated over the past four years.

Iran has been suffering from economic difficulties caused by the sanctions, and anti-U.S. hard-liners have gained momentum. The parliament has enacted a law that requires the government to significantly expand uranium enrichment and to refuse IAEA monitoring.

Late last month, a scientist believed to be a key figure in Iran’s nuclear program was assassinated. It is widely believed that Israel, which opposes the nuclear agreement, led the assassination as a distraction to prevent the United States from returning to the agreement.

In addition to the lifting of sanctions, Iran may seek “compensation” for its economic losses as a condition of correcting its actions that breached the agreement. If a hard-liner replaces the moderate incumbent in next June’s presidential election, the situation will inevitably become more tense.

The incoming Biden administration takes the position that Iran must first comply with the agreement before the United States returns to it. Taking into consideration the concerns of Israel, Saudi Arabia and other nations, an extensive discussion must be held on Iran’s ballistic missile development and its intervention in regional conflicts.

Countries participating in the nuclear agreement, including Britain, France and Germany, have been opposed to the withdrawal of the United States and have emphasized the need to maintain the agreement. Japan has taken the same position.

In order to stabilize the situation in the Middle East, it is important for these countries to work together and carry out diplomacy to mediate between the United States and Iran.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 13, 2020.