Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as Iran Nuclear Deal is a significant accord that was signed between P5+1 member states, European Union and Islamic Republic of Iran. The deal was signed between the parties on 14th of July 2015. The main objective of the deal comprises of blocking the pathway of Iran towards nuclear bomb. JCPOA compels Iran to avoid itself from preparing or acquiring nuclear weapons and in return, Iran would get rid off all the sanctions that were previously imposed on it. The deal was signed in the Obama administration.
Under this agreement, Iran had to eliminate medium enriched uranium and cut off its stockpiles of low enriched uranium. According to JCPOA, Iran is bound to reduce its gas centrifuges to two third of its total gas centrifuges. In the next 15 years (starting from the year 2015) Iran is bound to enrich uranium only up to 3.67%. Iran would not enhance its enrichment facilitates and would be bound to have only one facility Natanz.
But in the year 2018, Trump administration withdrew USA from JCPOA in order to put pressure on Iran to bring it on the negotiating table for further amendments in the deal. US President Trump was so uncertain about the Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and he thought that results of JCPOA are not those results which were supposed to be gained. The other parties of the deal criticized United States for the unilateral withdrawal. Subsequently, Iran started to gradually enrich Uranium more than the limits prescribed in the deal while stressing US to honor its commitments and other parties to ensure compliance with the deal, while the Trump administration continued to resort to the strategy of maximum pressure, a strategy that was unable to bear the desired results. After US Elections of 2020, as the Biden administration came to power, a number of talks for the revival of JCPOA kicked off.
Oil always works as a center of the gravity in the Middle East region. Middle East is the center of gravity regarding oil reserves. It has almost 65% of the world’s oil resources. Saudi Arabia has most of its economy dependent on oil trade. Second largest oil producer and trader in the Middle East is Iran, then United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Syria. According to the report of several organizations such as BP, OGJ and EIA, Middle East contains approximately 800 Bbo or nearly half of the world’s proven recoverable crude. Middle East has abundance of gas reserves as well. Russian invasion of Ukraine has posed a new turn in the oil market. Former President of Ukraine before Zelensky, Petro Poronshenko was pro-Russia. But when Zelensky came into power, Zelensky’s government became more tilted towards the West, creating a security threat for Russia. Zelensky touted for the Ukrainian membership of European Union and NATO. Membership of NATO was perceived as a threat to Russia. Russia doesn’t want United States influence in any of the region’s state. It started its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine on January 2022 and it became intense in February 24th. But this invasion brings hurdles in the revival of JCPOA.
United States and Russia’s diplomatic tussle has given backlash on Eastern European states. In response to Russian ‘special operation’ in Ukraine, United States imposed severe sanctions on Russia. UK has imposed sanctions on Wagner group of Russia. United States put ban on the export of items that run as dual use goods. Russian flights are not allowed to use air spaces of US, UK, Canada and EU. UK has raised the taxes on some imports of Russia. Western party has sanctioned the high profile businessmen of Russia in which Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is also short listed. In regards to oil and gas, US has banned all these oil and gas imports from Russia and UK will also boycott it. Russia has been hit financially as Russian banks have been disconnected with SWIFT. When Trump left JCPOA, sanctions were imposed on Iran’s oil exportation and that created a boom for Russia’s oil market. But now Ukraine crises has created a vacuum in international oil market which would bring chance for Iran’s oil market that would proportionally affect the oil market in Middle East as well.
To fulfill that vacuum, Iran would become a potential need for European oil market. Recently, talks on JCPOA have been underway. United States is willing to lift the sanctions on Iran regarding civilian nuclear facilities. Iran can take help from UK, France and Russia on civilian facilities. Iran welcomed this step but Iran wants that all the sanctions on Iran must be lifted. The recent Ukraine crisis has also affected JCPOA talks drastically.
Russia claims that ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine won’t affect Russia’s cooperation in JCPOA. Russian foreign minister said that US sanctions on Russia over Ukraine Crisis should not affect the trade and economic ties with Iran. According to United States, Russia’s new demands are creating the hurdles for the revival of JCPOA. JCPOA has a major impact on Middle Eastern Politics. Ukraine Crisis is becoming a reason for sidelining the sensitive Iran Nuclear Deal. Iran is in a state of dilemma. Analysts have a viewpoint to sideline Russia from these talks but here lies a dilemma situation for Iran. Would it undermine its relations with Russia?
There would be two results for Gulf states especially Saudi Arabia. Gulf countries have two concerns regarding JCPOA. As if the deal resumes, then Iran would be able to use civilian nuclear technology and there lies uncertainty because Iran can allegedly divert it for military purposes. Secondly, when US would up lift the heavy sanctions from Iran then that would become the potential threat for Saudi Arabia’s oil politics in Middle East. Here lies conflict of interests that engulfs the Middle East into an unpleasant environment. Oil Diplomacy has been an important factor affecting the geopolitical environment of Middle East. Oil vacuum in international oil market demands Iran’s oil supply which would directly affect the Middle Eastern politics.
Talks on JCPOA are still going on. United States and Iran have engaged via negotiations at Vienna in order to resume the deal. According to Major General Yahya Safavi who is advisor and senior aide for armed forces affairs to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has said that it is seemed like United States would rejoin 2015 Iran nuclear deal. However, EU coordinator for JCPOA visited Tehran and insisted that non-nuclear issues should also be addressed. With the negotiations ongoing, both Iran and United States are looking forward to the revival of the deal, albeit with their own concerns. Either of the two potential outcomes to these negotiations would have regional and global implications.