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Policy brief | 14 December 2022

Workshop report: Getting the JCPOA through 2022 and the US and Europe effectively engaged with Iran

In October, the ELN and Hanns Seidel Foundation partnered on a track 1.5 meeting in London which brought together a range of European and Iranian participants both to assess how the JCPOA could still be revived and to consider alternative scenarios in more detail.

This workshop report, by the ELN’s Policy and Impact Director Jane Kinninmont, captures key highlights from the meeting, including:

  • Prospects for reviving the JCPOA have dimmed further in recent months mainly because of developments outside of the JCPOA framework: Iran’s objections to an IAEA investigation into its historic nuclear programme, its provision of drones to Russia for use in the invasion and occupation of Ukraine, and European sympathy for the women and youth-led protests in Iran.
  • While many observers are increasingly pessimistic, they are generally reluctant to declare the JCPOA to be dead because alternative scenarios seem unpalatable.
  • One alternative scenario is an interim “less for less” agreement where Iran would move on two issues of primary importance to the P5+1: restore key transparency measures and limit its level of uranium enrichment to below 5%. Meanwhile, the US would lift sanctions on the two most important economic sectors for Iran, oil, and banks. Participants noted that, in particular, easing sanctions on banks could be done in ways that are directly beneficial for the Iranian population.
  • Another scenario is an informal understanding among all sides not to escalate because further escalation would be a lose-lose scenario. Under this scenario – which is perhaps the closest to the status quo – Iran would not cross the threshold of 90% enrichment or take other steps to weaponization, while Western governments would refrain from pursuing snapback sanctions and would dissuade Israel from attacks. However, this approach of “no deal, no crisis” may not be stable or sustainable over time.
  • As risks of more escalatory scenarios are rising, European governments should engage actively with regional stakeholders who want to prevent a war. They should support regional dialogue, including track twos, to reduce broader risks of conflict in the Persian Gulf region and the broader Middle East. Maritime security and cybersecurity should be among the areas of focus. Europeans should also explore possibilities for dialogues involving Iranians and Israelis (which have been explored far less than GCC-Iran dialogue).
  • Bandwidth may be limited by the focus on the Ukraine crisis, but another major crisis may be brewing in the Middle East and requires preventative attention.
  • Geopolitical tensions between Western countries and Russia pose risks to arms control in general. This does not rule out continuing cooperation on the JCPOA, but diplomats will have to work hard to ensure that all sides see a diplomatic solution as being firmly in their own interests.

Read the full workshop report here.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image: Flickr, Taymaz Valley