September 5, 2018 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1415

The JCPOA Is A UN Security Council Resolution Granting Iran Nuclear State Status – Iran Will Never Withdraw From It And Its Threats To Do So Are Empty

September 5, 2018 | By A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1415

Iran will never withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aka the Iran nuclear deal, because this agreement (once the limits it imposes expire) grants Iran the recognized legal status of a nuclear state, with the official recognition and seal of the UN Security Council.

The Nuclear Agreement Is A UNSC Resolution That Cannot Be Revoked; Russia And China Will Veto Any Attempt To Do So

The JCPOA is not an economic agreement; its economic advantages for both sides, important as they are, are not essential. What Iran sought to achieve through the JCPOA was recognition of its nuclear state status. In fact, a precondition for its entry into bilateral talks with the Obama administration was that the U.S. provide a written guarantee that it recognized Iran's right to enrich uranium, and President Obama provided this recognition before the start of the talks in 2012, and again at their conclusion. Iran also made sure to anchor this recognition in a UNSC resolution, rather than in a bilateral or multilateral agreement that depends on the will of the parties. The JCPOA's status as a UNSC resolution (No. 2231) ensures that it cannot be revoked, because, in the existing global constellation, Russia and China are guaranteed to veto any attempt to cancel it.[1]   

Hence, Iran's threats to withdraw from the nuclear agreement are spurious, and the concerns of European parties that it will withdraw unless compensated for the renewed U.S. sanctions are baseless.[2]

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressed Iran's position on this matter on August 29, 2018, saying: "The agreement is not an end [in itself] but a tool. If we come to the conclusion that this tool is not securing our national interests, we will set it aside."[3] It should be stressed again that the agreement recognizes Iran's nuclear state status and thus will forever serve the Iranian regime's national interests. Moreover, Khamenei refrains from explicitly stating that he will withdraw from the agreement but only saying that he will "set it aside."

The Economic Dimensions Of The Nuclear Agreement Were Always Secondary

The JCPOA was never meant to be an economic agreement, but was defined in advance by the Obama administration and the Europeans as a historic milestone for nuclear arms control and for global peace and stability. Economic benefits, if mentioned at all, were secondary to the main achievement of welcoming Iran into the nuclear club while striking from the record its acknowledged violations in the domain of military nuclear activity and while presenting the agreement as protecting the world from nuclear danger. This is not to imply that Iran did not seek to derive important economic advantages from the agreement, and indeed attained them until the U.S. withdrew from the agreement in May 2018. Since the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA in a way that also prevents the Europeans from continuing their trade with Iran, the latter has been trying to gain compensation for this. But even failure to receive compensation will not prompt Iran to withdraw from the agreement.

Europe – which, throughout the talks led by the EU3 (Britain, France and Germany) with Iran during the pre-Obama era, firmly refused to grant Iran's the right to enrich uranium – set aside this principled opposition once President Obama absolved it of the moral obligation to avoid cooperating with the Iranian regime. Obama also presented the Iranian regime as a legitimate member of the international community, and transformed it from a country accused of nuclear arms violations and therefore sanctioned by the UNSC into a legitimate and equal partner in negotiations. After removing the moral barrier, Obama also promised the Europeans they would derive economic benefits from the agreement. But the claim that economic dividends are Europe's main consideration is a myth, since in CY (calendar year) 2017 the trade volume between the European Union (EU) and the U.S. totaled $1.1 trillion, comprising imports by the EU from the U.S. of $528 billion and exports by the EU to the U.S. of $629 billion.

By contrast, trade between the EU and Iran for the same calendar year totaled $23.9 billion made up of imports valued at $11.56 billion and exports to Iran valued at $12.33 billion.[4] Therefore, statements by EU spokesmen that they will counteract the U.S. sanctions against Iran in a way that prioritizes trade with Iran over trade with the U.S. are ridiculous. The fact that large companies, European and others, are leaving the Iranian market are proof of this.

The statements of European officials regarding the JCPOA are therefore meant as swipes at the Trump administration, as part of their political struggle against the U.S. and against its president, whom they regard as an inferior statesman whose authority and dictates regarding foreign policy and global trade are unacceptable.

Appendix: Iran Will Not Give Up The Nuclear Agreement

For previous MEMRI reports regarding Iranian threats to revoke the JCPOA if its demands are not met, see:

Inquiry & Analysis No. 1306, Iran Will Not Cancel The JCPOA – Because It Grants Iran Nuclear State Status And Is A Western Guarantee For The Regime's Survival, April 6, 2017

Inquiry & 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.

Inquiry & Analysis 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.

Inquiry & Analysis No. 837, Khamenei's Aim at the Nuclear Talks – Securing the Survival of His Regime, May 15, 2012.

* A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.


[1] Even if Iran is caught violating the JCPOA, it may incur penalties, but this will not detract from the principled recognition of its nuclear status.

[2] This holds true even if Iran is bombed by the U.S. or Israel. Even in such a scenario, it will not withdraw from the agreement but will prefer to maintain it as a binding resolution by the international community recognizing its nuclear status.

[3], August 29, 2018.

[4] The figures are taken from the Directorate General for Trade of the European Commission, European Union, Trade with Iran (2017).

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