The Iran nuclear deal: Don’t confuse the means with the end
Recent comments by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif regarding the expected US return to the 2015 nuclear deal under the incoming Biden administration indicate the increased Iranian expectations from the potential negotiations.
From the tone of Zarif’s comments, when he said Iran was ready for Washington to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), one might think he was the one dictating terms to the US, but issues such as the Iranian missile program are non-negotiable.
Zarif is disregarding observations made by President Rouhani, who took note of statements by US President-elect Joe Biden’s new national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, that the incoming administration wants to box Iran in via Washington rejoining the nuclear deal, forcing Tehran to comply with the terms of the original deal. He stopped short of addressing Iran’s missile program or Tehran’s hostile interventions in the sovereign affairs of US regional allies, which Biden had mentioned earlier.
This shift in the tone of comments from the Biden administration prompted Rouhani to rush to announce that Iran was ready to comply with all the nuclear obligations stipulated in the nuclear deal, in a bid to woo the incoming administration. In contrast, Zarif understands Iran’s missile program is among the most contentious issues within the JCPOA, and wants to use it as a bargaining chip to secure Washington’s return to the deal.
These diplomatic maneuvers make the US return to the deal seem inevitable, but America’s true motives remain hidden.
When Barack Obama introduced the JCPOA to the world in 2015, the foremost justification for this interim 15-year deal was to give Iran’s regime an opportunity to change its behavior to integrate it into the international community as a normal state that respects international law and the norms governing relations among countries.
Logically speaking, it is impossible to agree a deal to prevent a country from committing evil acts that threaten global security and peace for 15 years, then allow it to carry out its threats when the deal expires. In reality, of course, there were no reformists in Iran capable of persuading the regime to be more open to the West, nor was the deal reviewed by those who crafted the JCPOA considering the regime’s belligerent policies toward the international community and to Iran’s neighbors in the region.
Logically speaking, it is impossible to agree a deal to prevent a country from committing evil acts that threaten global security and peace for 15 years, then allow it to legally carry out its threats when the deal expires.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Despite this illusionary hope of peace and normalization resulting from the deal, Iran’s regime took immediate advantage of it to support its proxies and allies in the region, boost its missile program, purchase weapons, strengthen its vast domestic repressive apparatuses and intensify internal tyranny — just as regional states had warned it would.
When Trump came to power he announced that the deal had failed to achieve its objectives. but he did not mention the primary objective; integrating Iran into the international community. Instead he focused on the deal’s failure to curb the regime’s nuclear ambitions. Here the crisis began. The original fundamental objective was forgotten, and the means turned into the end. Five years on, the question is, is Iran viewed as a normal state and to what extent has it been integrated into the international community?
After the US pulled out of the JCPOA, the other signatories viewed its return as vital for the deal’s successful continuation. However, they have remained heedless of the potential drawbacks, with nobody asking why Europe wants it to continue? With Washington’s imminent return to the deal becoming an objective, the tools and means to realize this should be pursued.
Iran has hoodwinked the world into forgetting the primary aim of the deal, making the international community believe that the main question is the regime’s compliance; in fact, this was not the end, but the means.
Iran is also pursuing this deliberate confusion between means and ends at another, deeper level, which is better understood if we question the plausibility of Iran’s claims about its own “peaceful” objective behind agreeing to the deal.
The regime believes that its “forward defense” strategy offers the best means for its survival and for maintaining the regime’s critical support base. In other words, the nuclear deal in its entirety is, from Tehran’s perspective, nothing but a tool for the regime’s survival through ensuring that the focus of any dispute with the West shifts away from considerations of the regime’s viability, instead transferring attention and pressure to the more manageable nuclear deal, which can be discussed, impeded, and delayed at great length over the years. As a result of this strategy, the regime itself is no longer subject to the same scrutiny or hostility, which has instead been transferred to the subject of the nuclear deal.
To end the regime’s absurd plan to turn the means into the end, we should insist on focusing on the nuclear deal’s original end objective, i.e. integrating Iran into the international community and turning it into a normal state that does not pose a threat to the security and safety of the international community. We need to relegate the various means used to meet this end to their proper place and avoid opting for means that proved unsuccessful before and reclassifying them as a realistic end.
The new US administration should remember the objectives that prompted Obama to sign the agreement, and ask itself whether a return to the deal can realistically be considered a successful means to integrate Iran into the international community and turn it into a normal state.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami