An Obama-era nuclear deal that was scrapped amid escalating tensions between the Trump administration and Iran could soon be revived, according to U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden, who has vowed to restore the pact.
The deal, which initially lifted sanctions off Iran in exchange for a limit on their nuclear capabilities, has been a smoke point in international relations since its abandonment two years ago.
Some have called for its restoration in order to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East, while other world leaders, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said restoring such a deal would be a mistake.
“As long as Iran continues to subjugate and threaten its neighbours, as long as Iran continues calling for Israel’s destruction, as long as Iran continues to bankroll, equip and train terrorist organizations throughout the region and the world, and as long as Iran persists in its dangerous quest for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, we shouldn’t go back to business as usual with Iran,” he said during a press conference Sunday.
Netanyahu’s comments signal international pushback should Biden attempt to rejoin. Here’s a refresher on what the deal is and why the U.S. backed out.
What is the Iran nuclear deal?
The Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a crowning achievement for former U.S. president Barack Obama, aimed at preventing Iran from ever acquiring the amount of uranium it would need to develop a nuclear weapon.
The pact was signed on July 14, 2015, by the U.S., Iran, China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.
A White House run-down of the deal showed that in exchange for fewer sanctions, Iran agreed to around-the-clock inspections of all nuclear-related activities by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, reduce its number of centrifuges by two-thirds, reduce its enriched uranium stockpile by 98 per cent (to less than 300 kilograms) and cut its level of uranium enrichment to 3.67 per cent.
In accordance with the deal, restrictions on Iran’s centrifuges will be lifted in 2025, and restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment are set to expire by 2030.
U.S. abandons agreement
U.S. President Donald Trump announced that America would be backing out of the nuclear deal on May 8, 2018, claiming the deal did not do enough to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
“It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” Trump said.
“This was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.”
The announcement drew criticism around the world, both from co-signing countries and other U.S. allies, including Canada. Since its withdrawal from the deal, the U.S. has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iran continued to uphold its end of the deal until last summer, when Iranian officials acknowledged they had surpassed the JCPOA’s set limit for stockpiling enriched uranium.
Shortly after Trump ordered a U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s high-ranking Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January, Iran promised “harsh revenge,” adding the country would no longer be adhering to the limits set out in the nuclear deal.
New presidency signals revival
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on President-elect Joe Biden last month to “compensate for past mistakes” and return to the deal as outlined in 2015.
Biden has expressed interest in reviving the nuclear deal, as long as Iran agrees to renew its compliance to the JPCOA’s terms.
“If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations,” Biden previously said in an op-ed to CNN.
However, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said Iran would not be re-negotiating any new terms, adding that the U.S. would need to pledge to uphold its own “commitments” to UN resolution UNSCR 2231, which urges the full implementation of JPCOA, before talks to rejoin can begin.
“We will not re-negotiate a deal which we negotiated. The deal was about give and take. It wasn’t about one side asking and the other side giving.”
Iranian nuclear scientist assassinated
Further complicating Biden’s quest to restore the Iran nuclear deal was the Nov. 27 assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who headed the Islamic Republic’s disbanded AMAD military nuclear program.
Tehran officials maintain the program was strictly for civilian purposes, but both Israel and the U.S. claimed the program was instead looking at building a viable nuclear bomb.
Iran has blamed Israel for the attack, vowing to take revenge “at the proper time.” The next day, the Pentagon said it was sending the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier back to the Middle East.
Pentagon officials said, “it was prudent to have additional defensive capabilities in the region to meet any contingency” in the wake of troops being pulled from Afghanistan and Iraq.
— With files from the Associated Press