May 29, 2018 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1400

Facing New U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Against It, Iranian Regime Officials Cling To JCPOA – Which Gives Iran Nuclear State Status Under UN Security Council Resolution

May 29, 2018 | By A. Savyon and U. Kafash*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1400


In the months preceding the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear deal, Iranian regime officials have stated that they were prepared for this possibility, and some even spoke about an immediate resumption of uranium enrichment and of Iran's nuclear program. However, following President Donald Trump's May 5, 2018 announcement of the U.S.'s withdrawal, Iran's reaction showed a complete reversal. Today, Iran is clinging to the JCPOA, and to Europe, which still supports it.

This paper will discuss the current Iranian positions and the status of the nuclear deal after the U.S. withdrawal from it (for Part I, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1397, Facing New U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Against It, Iranian Regime, Helpless, Clings To The JCPOA And Europe As A Defense Umbrella Against The U.S., May 25, 2018):  

Statements By Iranian Regime Speakers

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: A Series Of Outlandish Conditions For Europe For Open-Ended Negotiations

In a May 23, 2018 speech to regime officials, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave permission to Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to conduct open-ended negotiations with Europe on a series of outlandish conditions. He gave the details of these conditions, and added that he was not expecting Europe to be able to comply with them. Also in the speech, he did not commit to explicitly withdrawing from the JCPOA or to a revival of Iran's nuclear program. He said:

"What is the proper way of dealing with the JCPOA after America's exit from it? First, we must be realistic, and not pin false hopes on and rejoice over its chances [of its continuation], but must address the people explicitly and realistically... It is not possible to rectify the country's economy by means of a European JCPOA [that is, a new agreement]. There is much evidence for this, including [European companies'] pulling out [of Iran] and large European companies' fear [of investing in Iran], as well as statements by officials of the three Europeans [Britain, France, and Germany] showing that it is not possible to advance the [Iranian] economy through a European JCPOA.

"These three European countries have broken the promise they made in the early 2000s in the matter of the nuclear issue. This time, Europe must prove that it will not break its promises again. The three European countries expressed no protest to America when it repeatedly violated the spirit and the letter of the JCPOA. I am criticizing the fact that had they protested, perhaps matters would not have developed as they did. Europe must compensate for this negligence.

"America left the JCPOA and this violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Europe must present the UN with a resolution against America and must protest against this move by America.

"We will continue the JCPOA with Europe provided that the heads of the three European countries promise and guarantee resolutely not to bring up for discussion the issue of the missiles or the issue of Iran's presence in the region.

"Another requisite condition is that the Europeans explicitly fight any type of American sanction. Everyone must know that Iran will not relinquish the elements of its might, including long-distance defense. Strategic depth is an additional [element of] might for Iran. A presence in the region and pro-Iran sentiment on the part of the nations constitute our strategic depth, and no smart government would relinquish these elements that give it might. "The Iranian people are united under the flag of Islam, and the regime takes pride in the Islamic slogans and recognizes them as an element of might and strength for the country.

"If America manages to disrupt Iran's petroleum sales, Europe must provide guarantees that it will purchase petroleum from Iran in quantities that we need [to sell].

"The European banks must guarantee to pay and transfer the amounts of money connected to Iran's government or private sector commerce.

"Iran has no dispute with the three European countries, but it does not trust them, and therefore they must provide genuine guarantees.

"If Europe takes its time vis-à-vis meeting our demands, Iran retains the right to restart its nuclear activity, which was suspended [under the JCPOA].

"I call on the elements in the Atomic Energy Organization [of Iran, AEOI] to be ready to possibly restart this activity. For now, we will not begin enriching uranium to 20%, but you must be ready, and if there is a need and we see that there is no point to the JCPOA, we will restart the activity that was suspended because of the JCPOA..."[1]

President Rohani: There Is Still A Chance For The JCPOA – We Have Neutralized Trump's Scheme For Us To Withdraw After He Did

At a May 16, 2018 government council meeting. President Rohani said: "There is still a chance for the JCPOA and the nuclear issue... For now, we must unite against American pressures... If we reach the conclusion that with cooperation with the other five countries [that remain in the JCPOA] our interests will be met under the JCPOA, then we will continue it.

"Trump's scheme was that in the evening he would announce his withdrawal from the JCPOA agreement and he anticipated that following [his announcement], or the next morning, Iran too would declare that it was leaving the agreement. Then in the afternoon the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would report that Iran was leaving the agreement, and the next day the UNSC resolution would be rescinded, and Iran would again be under global sanctions. Trump lay his first card on the table, but erred in regard to the second card... and all America's schemes were disrupted.

"With the decision that we made [to continue with the JCPOA], the [Iranian] public's trust of those in charge is heightened. Had we responded emotionally, and had we left the agreement, the public would have asked why we were being so hasty, and why we weren't giving it a chance. Perhaps also the EU would say that if Iran gave it a chance and remained in the JCPOA, it [i.e. the EU] would stand against America, and would meet Iran's interests. Perhaps even Russia, China and the other superpowers would ask why we were hasty. Now, in our decision, we have proven to the countries of the world..., and the [Iranian] people openly sees, that our regime is operating accurately and logically.

"We have defined certain interests in the nuclear agreement [as essential]. If we see that these interests are being realized after American's withdrawal, that's great, and a rare opportunity has fallen into [our laps, that is,] that a disrupting and interfering element [i.e. the U.S.] left this agreement. But if we see that we cannot obtain the desired agreement, we have still lost nothing, because we have already prepared a plan for running the country [even] without the JCPOA. Furthermore, before the JCPOA, from 2013 to 2016, we ran the country without the JCPOA, and we will again run it. In the meantime, there have been statements that all five countries are making efforts to meet Iran's interests."[2]

Government Spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht: We Will Be Able To Continue The Agreement If Europe Gives Guarantees

At a May 15, 2018 press conference, government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht clarified: "If our interests demand it, we will certainly leave the JCPOA. It is not hard for us to turn back the clock. In such a situation, we will conduct [uranium] enrichment to any percentage we see fit. When we leave the JCPOA, there is no need for our nuclear activity to be overseen by the other party. If the JCPOA is destroyed, it is they who will be damaged. We have no problem returning to the situation as it was in 2013. Perhaps some will gain from the sanctions, but the people will be harmed. Therefore, we in the government are making efforts so that the tyrants of America will not benefit...  

"If Europe gives guarantees that it will support the JCPOA and will meet our interests without fear of the American secondary sanctions, then we will be able to continue the JCPOA. But if our interests are not met, there is no need for us to continue the JCPOA. We have plans for the current situation, and even for a situation in which Europe will go with America and withdraw from the JCPOA. We have defined Iran's needs and price, and have also defined the tasks of each [of the regime] apparatuses, with concrete management, and we will finish out the year without a budget shortfall.

"Perhaps the renewed sanctions will cause difficulties in the country, but these sanctions will not cause us to surrender, or paralyze us, and the government will manage the situation. We are holding many meetings within Iran in order to come up with a practical definition for guarantees [that Europe must provide] and in order to clarify to the negotiating team what steps to take in the talks... America wanted us to leave [the JCPOA] immediately in order to create a global coalition against us...

"We have many problems and we must prepare ourselves for any situation. We do not have the time to both fight the enemy [i.e. the U.S.] and to be on the lookout so that our friends [in Europe] don't stab us in the back.

"When we signed contracts with foreign companies, we arranged them such that if the sanctions are reinstated, we will not be harmed. With regard to the chances that the sanctions on petroleum are reinstated, and they impact [our] budget, we have an emergency budget; if there is a need for additional decisions, we will obtain them from the Majlis."[3]

Majlis Supreme National Security Council Secretary Shamkhani: The Talks With the Europeans Are The Ultimate Test For Them

On May 22, 2018, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Majlis Supreme National Security Council, said: "These talks with the Europeans [on the JCPOA are] the ultimate test for Europe to prove that it is independent vis-à-vis the dictated American policy. If it cannot, or does not want to, protect its interests and Iran's in the face of Trump's illegal and unreasonable approach, then continuing to work with Europe is pointless. If we conclude that Europe cannot meet its obligations, or is striving to take advantage of the condition of America's leaving the JCPOA in order to pressure Iran, [this] current foreign policy approach will be examined."[4]

Reformist Majlis Member Elias Hazarati: Do Not Leave The JCPOA – Its Spirit And Sections Benefit Iran, And It Should Remain In Existence As Far As International Law Is Concerned, And We Can Return To It Under Other Circumstances

On May 16, Majlis member Elias Hazarati called for "continuing the talks with the five countries remaining [in the agreement] and obtaining from them the required guarantee of their loyalty to the sections of the JCPOA." He added: "We must also deal with the  matter of a judicial complaint against America for violating the JCPOA...

"In such a situation, Iran's immediate and hasty withdrawal from the JCPOA would complete the project that America, Israel, and Saudi Arabia began. Revolutionary awareness requires that we not play on their field. Even if the European countries are lined up alongside America and Iran's achievements from the JCPOA are miniscule, there is still a need to get our obligations [under the agreement] suspended, instead of leaving the JCPOA, so that this document, whose spirit and sections benefit Iran, will remain in existence as far as international  law is concerned. [Thus] it will be possible to return to it under other conditions. In order to stand against America's new plan, we have more of a need for greater national understanding [within Iran] than for diplomatic steps..."[5]

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi: After Talks With The Europeans, We Will Be Able To Talk About Their Results

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said at a May 21, 2018 press conference: "Last week in Brussels, during [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif's meeting with the foreign ministers of England, France, Germany, and [High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica] Mogherini, Iran was offered no package of proposals. The various [Iranian] apparatuses, both economic and non-economic, with interests in the JCPOA are discussing plans with their European partners. After the talks, and after they are over, the situation will be clearer, and then it will be possible to talk about their results."[6]

Majlis National Security Committee Spokesman Hossein Nakavi Hosseini: Europe's "Slogans And Political Positions Do Not Constitute Guarantees For Us"

On May 16, 2018, Majlis National Security Committee spokesman Hossein Nakavi Hosseini said: "We must obtain firm and serious guarantees from the Europeans. [Mere] slogans and political opinions do not constitute guarantees for us. Europe must fill the void left by America's withdrawal from the JCPOA and provide Iran with guarantees that Iran will not encounter any problem with regard to the sanctions. If Europe demands that Iran remain in the JCPOA, it must prepare the ground for Iran [to be able to do so], because if Iran's interests are not met, Iran has no reason to keep the JCPOA."[7]

Senior Khamenei Advisor Ali Akbar Velayati: "It Does Not Appear That Anything Will Be Achieved In Negotiations With The Europeans"

On May 16, 2018, Ali Akbar Velayati, senior advisor to Khamenei, said: "It does not appear that anything will be achieved in negotiations with the Europeans. I hope that this will indeed achieve results. But how long must we wait and watch [to see] if America has levelled or lifted sanctions? We must be independent."[8]

Velayati also said, on May 20: "There are objections with regard to the European elements, and this arouses apprehensions. I hope that those in charge in the [Iranian] government will succeed in obtaining the demanded guarantees, because if they do not, it will not be possible to trust a side that zigzags and contradicts itself. The [French company] Total's project is a concrete example of [how they] keep promises. They made so much propaganda and displays, and took souvenir photos, but at the moment of truth they said that they could not withstand the American pressure. According to this, the JCPOA has in practice become one-sided."[9]

Tehran Friday Preacher Kazem Siddiqi: "The West Laid A Big Trap For Us"

On May 18, 2018, Tehran Friday preacher Kazem Siddiqi said: "America's withdrawal from the JCPOA is a very sad story. The West has laid a big trap for us. Leader [Khamenei] has often stressed that it cannot be trusted. In principle, the [nuclear] talks began according to the principle of lifting the sanctions. But the sanctions were not lifted and we ourselves backed away from our nuclear knowledge so that they would lift their tyrannical sanctions from our shoulders – but they broke the[ir] promises. During the nuclear talks, the Leader wrote a letter to President [Rohani] and warned him about the West's reputation of breaking promises, and said that he should get guarantees from them. But the American president [Trump], who looks like a crazy man, destroyed the JCPOA with a kick...

"The [Iranian] people demands that the diplomats in charge [of the talks] obtain, if they can, guarantees in the talks, and if they cannot, then we will not be persuaded [to agree] to this humiliation."[10]

The JCPOA's Status After The U.S. Withdrawal

Statements by Iranian regime spokesmen on the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement expose the regime's weakness. This weakness is because the agreement was achieved through bilateral negotiations with the U.S., while the Europeans were a marginal element, and President Obama even forced far-reaching concessions on the Europeans that they were at first unwilling to accept. Therefore, the U.S.'s withdrawal from the agreement effectively killed it.

Since the agreement was not signed by the sides but only approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, it continues to exist until there is another UNSC resolution in the matter. This cannot happen, because even if the European countries eventually leave the JCPOA, it should be assumed that Russia and China will veto any Western attempt to cancel UNSCR 2231. 

The agreement's continuation under the auspices of the UN even without bilateral significance leaves Iran with the nuclear state status granted it by the agreement, with all the advantages that this status brings.

Iranian regime spokesmen from all camps describe the JCPOA as a phenomenal achievement that the West is scheming to rip out of its hands, and add that they have not fallen for this.

Iran's clinging to the JCPOA at any price, even if its practical sections are not carried out, attests to the magnitude of the West's concession to Iran as engineered by the Obama administration. It also exposes the fact that Khamenei gave his approval for the agreement and all its sections, and forced the Majlis to pass it without significant discussion and in under an hour.

The Iranians, and first and foremost Khamenei,[11] claim that the U.S. violated the agreement by not lifting all the sanctions. This claim is false. The U.S. lifted all the sanctions connected to the nuclear issue – as it was obliged to do because of Iran's unwillingness to tackle its support for terrorism and its human rights violations. Therefore, sanctions already on Iran because of these issues remained in force, and it is these that prevent Europe from engaging in commerce with Iran even after the JCPOA was implemented (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1268, In Contrast To Rohani Allegations In UNGA, Senior Iranian Officials Confirm U.S. Has Met Its Obligations Under JCPOA, September 23, 2016).  

The European attempts today to present the nuclear agreement as a primarily economic agreement whose cancellation caused Europe economic damage is an essential distortion of the facts. The Obama administration, and the Europeans, had claimed that it was an historic milestone in nuclear nonproliferation, and in the interests of world peace and stability. The economic aspect, if mentioned at all, was secondary.

On May 15, 2018, the Kayhan daily criticized the Iranian leadership's decision to adhere to the JCPOA and to negotiate with Europe with the aim of reviving it, stating that it was in effect dead: "The dear members of the [Rohani] government talked about [how Iran] would react harshly [towards the Americans], which would lead [the Americans] to regret [leaving the agreement]. But now they have chosen the worst option of all – that is, to remain in the JCPOA without America, and this is how they want to meet the interests of the people...

"In the most optimistic scenario, even if we do not recognize Europe as cooperating with America in this puppet show, and assuming that it wants [to maintain] reasonable conduct [vis-à-vis] Iran and wants to advance matters with Tehran, we must know that in any event it [Europe] does not and will never have such a capability [to stand up against the U.S.]..."[12]

*A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; U. Kafash is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.



[1], May 23, 2018.

[2] ISNA (Iran), May 16, 2018.

[3] ISNA (Iran), May 15, 2018.

[4] Tasnim (Iran), May 22, 2018.

[5] IRNA (Iran) May 16, 2018.

[6] ISNA (Iran), May 21, 2018

[7] Tasnim (Iran), May 16, 2018.

[8] Fars (Iran), May 16, 2018.

[9] Tasnim (Iran), May 20, 2018.

[10] Tasnim (Iran), May 18, 2018.

[11] See Khamenei's statements., May 23, 2018; 

[12] Kayhan (Iran), May 15, 2018.

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