By Kelsey Davenport
Tensions over the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Iran continue to rise after the Trump administration accused Tehran of violating one of its commitments under the agreement, but Iran’s decision to install additional advanced centrifuges appears to fall into a gray area not covered by the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Despite the lack of clarity, the United States urged Iran to return to compliance even though U.S. President Donald Trump violated the deal by reimposing sanctions in May 2018 and Washington is no longer party to the agreement.
The U.S. accusation, which was made during a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors June 11, centers around Iran’s installation of additional advanced IR-6 centrifuges. Officials from P4+1 countries party to the JCPOA have disputed the U.S. characterization that Iran is in noncompliance with its JCPOA obligations.
Iran is still abiding by the JCPOA’s limits on heavy water and low-enriched uranium, according to the May 31 IAEA report, which is positive given that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said May 8 that Tehran would no longer adhere to those limits.
The U.S. charge of Iranian noncompliance with the JCPOA comes days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is “prepared to engage in a conversation with no pre-conditions” with Iran. Pompeo’s June 2 comments followed remarks by Trump emphasizing that he is not seeking a military conflict or regime change with Iran. Trump, speaking in Japan May 27, said he is “not looking to hurt Iran at all” and that he thinks “we’ll make a deal.”
During his Japan trip, Trump also endorsed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to visit Iran, raising speculation that Abe is serving as a mediator for the Trump administration (see below for details.) However, when Abe attempted to deliver a message from Trump to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei June 13, Khamenei said that he does not view Trump as “deserving to exchange messages with” and will not respond.
Despite Trump’s outreach and what may be a softening on U.S. requirements for diplomatic engagement, he supported new sanctions targeting Iran’s petrochemical industry June 7 and threatened the “official end of Iran” after blaming Tehran for attacks on U.S. allies in the Middle East in May. The United States also accused Iran of attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman June 13 and held a UN Security Council meeting to discuss what the Trump administration characterized as a “clear threat to international peace and security.”
Iran denied responsibility for the June 13 attack and accused the United States of “warmongering.” Iranian leaders have also rejected the Trump administration’s offer to engage in dialogue and questioned Trump’s sincerity. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said June 1 that Tehran would support talks if the United States “sits respectfully at the negotiating table” but will not “submit to bullying.” The week before he reiterated that the United States must “lift the unjust sanctions and fulfill their commitments” to return to negotiations.
Khamenei was even more definitive in his rejection, saying May 29 that “we will not negotiate with America, because negotiation has no benefit and carries harm.” Khamenei also said June 13 that Trump’s claim that the United States is not interested in regime change “is a lie.”
In a June 12 news conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouahni, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Japan will “use its utmost effort to reduce tension in the region” and said his country can play a “constructive role” in fostering peace and stability in the Middle East. [It was the first visit by a Japanese leader since 1978.]
Abe said he expects Iran to “remain committed” to the nuclear deal and he expressed appreciation for the fatwa issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “that the use of atomic weapons is anti-sharia.”
Rouhani said that Iran welcomes the opportunity to improve ties with Japan and stated that Tokyo is interested in continuing to buy oil. Japan received a waiver from the Trump administration in November allowing Tokyo to buy limited amounts of oil from Iran without being subject to U.S. sanctions, but that waiver expired in May and was not renewed.