In the aftermath of the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by the US and ensuing series of events, the latest situation is that Iranian has threatened that it may walk away from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if the European Union referred the Iranian nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This is a major implication after the killing of General Soleimani which overshadows all others, as its repercussions could be far reaching and highly detrimental for the region as well as for the global non-proliferation regime. The threat of withdrawing from NPT comes close on the heels of reported decision of the Iranian government that it would no longer adhere to the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), popularly known as the Iran nuclear agreement.
Iran’s call for withdrawal from the NPT is in reaction to the triggering of the Dispute Resolution Mechanism (DRM), a clause enshrined in the nuclear agreement, by the group of three European countries Britain, France and Germany, which were part of the deal. The fact that the US had reportedly pressurised the European countries to take this route suggests that the continuation of such pressure on the Europeans may cause the actual withdrawal of Iran from the JCPOA.
Invoking of the DRM and consequent referring of the Iranian nuclear issue to the UNSC may result in the snapping back of the UNSC sanctions on Iran. Iran has already been suffering from the economic consequences of the unilateral sanctions imposed by the US, causing huge domestic unrest. Additional multilateral sanctions would imply more domestic unrest, posing severe threat to the Islamic regime, and possible violent retaliation to such protests by the Iranian government.
The current conflict between Iran and the US could be seen as the result of the unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA by the US President Donald Trump on May 8, 2018, despite the regular certification of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran was fulfilling its commitments enshrined in the deal. In fact, Iran had waited exactly for one year after the US withdrawal in the hope that the European nations would find some solution, failing which Iran announced on May 8, 2019, that it was scaling back its commitment to the JCPOA.
The primary objective of the JCPOA was to constrict the pace of the Iranian uranium enrichment, Iran’s withdrawal from the same would imply a higher speed of enrichment by Iran. The other vital element of the JCPOA was the transparency of the Iranian nuclear programme and therefore Iran’s withdrawal from this deal would also imply that other nations would not be able to know the actual nature and progress in the Iranian nuclear programme.
Such fears pertaining to the Iranian nuclear programme may cause other nations, more particularly, Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, to follow suit, triggering the nuclear arms race in the already volatile Middle East region. This may also prompt some other nations opposed to the Iranian nuclear programme such as the United States and Israel to militarily attack the Iranian nuclear installations, causing the current conflicting situation to escalate into war. It may also be underlined in this context that due to its position as the rich reservoir of hydrocarbon, a war in the Persian Gulf region could have severe negative repercussions on the global economy.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in New Delhi last week. He held detailed talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar. New Delhi expressed her desire for peace in the Persian Gulf.
The recent statement of the Head of Iran’s Presidential Office Mahmoud Vaezi, exhorting Iran and Saudi Arabia to work together, is encouraging. The countries of the Persian Gulf should work together for restoring and maintaining the security in the region. This is extremely crucial for regional peace and stability, and to obviate the potential nuclear proliferation, the two regional countries should find out diplomatic means to resolve their mutual differences.
Script: Dr. Asif Shuja, Senior Research Fellow, Middle East Institute,
National University of Singapore