The Irish Times view on need to save Iran nuclear deal

Iran-US tensions

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and the head of Iran’s nuclear technology organisation Ali Akbar Salehi inspecting nuclear technology on the occasion of Iran National Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran last month. Photograph: EPA/Iranian Presidency Office

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and the head of Iran’s nuclear technology organisation Ali Akbar Salehi inspecting nuclear technology on the occasion of Iran National Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran last month. Photograph: EPA/Iranian Presidency Office

 

When the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, the other signatories to that landmark accord – France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia – vowed to salvage it. They would continue to uphold their side of the bargain, they said, and would create a new financial mechanism that would enable firms to continue to trade with Iran. That was easier said than done: a US threat of fines on multinationals that did business with the Islamic Republic resulted in most European firms pulling out of Tehran, and the resulting recession has hit ordinary Iranians badly while strengthening regime hardliners.

Now, a year after the US violated the deal, Iran has announced a partial halt to implementation of its commitments. President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would resume implementation if France, Germany, the UK, Russia and China found a way for Iran to sell oil and handle banking transactions within the next two months.

The agreement was far from perfect, but hawks in the US administration who decry its failure to deal with Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal or its meddling in its neighbours’ affairs miss the point of the deal, which was to limit Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. It has manifestly achieved that – international monitors say Iran has been fully compliant with the intrusive inspection regime it accepted under the deal.

Donald Trump’s ignorance of world affairs combined with the presence at his side of Iran-obsessed ideologues such as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have put the deal – one of the biggest achievements of US diplomacy this century – in real jeopardy. Not only that; the recent ratcheting up of US pressure on Iran – through sweeping new sanctions, the designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group and this week’s dispatch of an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf – has increased the risk that the two sides could tip into a disastrous confrontation. Europe, China and Russia cannot assume Washington will act responsibly. But they must. That means doing everything possible to save the deal.

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