Zolfaghar missiles are displayed during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran. Photo: Reuters/Stringer
Zolfaghar missiles are displayed during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

In the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed in 2015, Iran was described as a “nuclear threshold state” that could be cleared to continue its nuclear program after remaining under observation for some years. Devising the preliminary framework to pursue this objective, various world powers – the US, the UK, Russia, France, China, Germany and the European Union – had negotiated with Iran for two years to achieve this breakthrough.

After defining a roadmap between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran’s nuclear program seemed to be in safe hands. Not satisfied with the mechanism, however, the US withdrew from the JCPOA in May last year as it wished to “make a new and lasting deal,” in the words of President Donald Trump. Notwithstanding IAEA assertions that Iran was complying and implementing its nuclear-related commitments, the US wanted to negotiate a new deal and announced sanctions against Iran.

Plausibly, restricting the formation of further nuclear states may be the real reason the US wanted a new deal. Bringing about the permanent denuclearization of Iran may be the actual objective, but the US was left alone in this matter as all the other signatories of the JCPOA stayed with the deal. In fact, most of the EU countries tried to resolve the crisis and even sidestepped some of the ensuing sanctions on Iran. Meanwhile, where Russia and China were concerned, the sanctions made no difference and trade with Iran continued as usual.

Since December, Iran has gone ahead with ballistic-missile tests to enhance its defense capability instead of pursuing talks with Washington. Preparing a defensive strategy instead, Tehran focused on boosting its missile capability to meet all eventualities. Discussing Iran’s fears, Brigadier-General Hossein General Salami of the Revolutionary Guard said, “If today the Europeans or others try to plot and pursue Iran’s missile disarmament, then we will be forced to resort to a strategic leap.”

After launching a missile into space last month, Iran got a reminder from the US that it was a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution, which is the crux of the JCPOA nuclear deal. Days later, Iran went ahead with missile tests at the occasion of anniversary celebrations of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Reaching full-range manufacturing capability, Iran has added confidence now and it has resolved any initial issues it had with cruise-missile engines.

At the testing of the latest Hoveizeh cruise missile, Defense Minister Amir Hatami symbolically likened it to the “long arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The missile even hit its target. Part of the Soumar group of missiles initially unveiled in 2015, this updated version flies 1,300 kilometers at a very low altitude and can be assembled in a very short time. And now, the Revolutionary Guard has unveiled an upgraded ballistic missile called Dezful with a range of 1,000km. Even the underground production facility has been shown on television and military officials have stressed that Iran’s “missile power is not negotiable.”

America’s sanctions have not been effective, and efforts to modify the original nuclear deal by Washington have failed. Getting out of the meticulously planned and negotiated JCPOA framework has only complicated matters further

Consequently, it can be safely said that America’s sanctions have not been effective and efforts to modify the original nuclear deal by Washington have failed. Getting out of the meticulously planned and negotiated JCPOA framework has only complicated matters further. Economic sanctions have not changed Iran’s stance and it has managed to survive even the second phase restricting its oil trade. In fact, it has become defiant, with its missiles now able to reach Israel and US bases in the region, and further expansions in missile range cannot be ruled out.

Considering the ongoing trade war with China, it would be difficult for the US to exert the required influence at the UN to push more sanctions through. With the end of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and Iran restarting its missile program, an alarming scenario of nuclear brinkmanship reminiscent of the Cold War has built up. After all, putting its nuclear program on the back burner in 2015 for a period of eight years under the JCPOA, Iran had kept its word until the deal got rejected.

Adamant that Iran has not breached any UN resolution, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi has said, “Iran’s missile program has a defensive nature and no UN Security Council resolution has banned Iran’s missile program or missile tests.” In Tehran’s interpretation, the language of the resolution “calls on” rather than “forbids” Iran from testing missiles.

But even though Iran must be thinking of its best interests, re-initiating activity on this front carries the risk of losing sympathy and support from the EU nations.

Both France and the UK have endorsed Washington’s viewpoint regarding Iran’s latest alleged breach of United Nations obligations and have expressed willingness to impose further sanctions. By testing medium-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads, Iran is treading a dangerous path and is only validating US concerns. It is time for other global powers to find a way out of this rigmarole before Iran’s defensive moves are deemed provocations. Mediating a new pact that can be acceptable to Washington, Tehran and all the other parties is the best solution.


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