Four Possible Scenarios to Determine the Future of the Iranian Nuclear Deal

We are just a few days away from the US administration making clear its position on the nuclear deal between the P5+1 group and Iran. Even though the White House had announced that it would make its position clear before the deadline. In the media, President Donald Trump’s position on the international pact is still unchanged. He considers it as the worst deal ever in American history and has put forward two scenarios; to withdraw from the deal or, at best, renegotiate its terms.

 On the other hand, some European countries have tried hard to convince the US administration on preserving the nuclear deal because of the absence of any alternatives. In fact, the European countries are determined to preserve the economic gains from the nuclear deal and to carry out the economic agreements they have signed with Iran, which are to an extent until now ink on paper. European corporations, regardless of the European position, are fearful a US withdrawal from the nuclear deal will make the agreement worthless. They believe if the US restores sanctions on Tehran, they will eventually be harmed as business with Iran will grind to a halt. Most importantly, the European countries cannot act outside the American ambit and adopt a different position from that of Washington. As for Iran, it will try its best to preserve the nuclear deal and the gains it acquired from it considering its economic problems and the collapse of its local currency, the continuation of protests and the rise of inflation and unemployment rates.

Looking into the future, there are four possible scenarios to determine the survival or death of the nuclear deal. In the first scenario, the US administration will keep its position and withdraw from the international pact regardless of the Europeans who will try to convince Tehran to pledge to the deal. As a result, exposing Washington as a mistrusted negotiator. Tehran will play this card in the media and Khamenei will deliver a big speech saying, “Didn’t I tell you that America cannot be trusted and that its position is based on persistent hostility towards Iran?” At the same time, the Iranian lobby in the West will endorse the idea that the reputation of the US in the world is dwindling. This is while Iran is attracting worldwide sympathy putting it in an advantageous position.

In the second scenario, the US will insist on renegotiating the terms of the nuclear deal with the support of the French president, Emanuel Macron. He emphasized this in his meeting with President Trump during his visit to Washington. In addition, President Trump did not exclude the possibility of renegotiating the terms of the nuclear deal when he announced his position on the agreement in its current context. This scenario might be satisfactory for London and Berlin but will face opposition from Moscow and Beijing. On the other hand, Tehran will decline any further negotiations and might threaten to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). However, it might show some flexibility on its ballistic missile program even though Iranian officials have frequently said, “Our defense program is a red line that cannot be negotiated.” The main point of disagreement between participants of the nuclear deal is on the Iranian hostile behavior in the region. Consequently, the US might insist on addressing this point in any renegotiated nuclear deal, but Tehran, Moscow, and Beijing, with a possibility of Germany, will decline this point entirely. All in all, this point might reach a dead end, leading to hard-hitting sanctions being imposed on Tehran by the US.

The third scenario revolves around the stick and no carrot policy. The US might raise the stakes and take decisive action in case Tehran refuses to renegotiate the terms of the nuclear deal. However, the US might not be ready for new military operations in the region, but Washington and Tel Aviv, perhaps in coordination with some Arab countries, might start a military operation against Iran starting in Syria by targeting its proxy militias such as Hezbollah, but not in Lebanon. This would terrify Iran and might force it to reconsider its position because of the limited options available to it in this regard. Russia might turn a blind eye to such military operations if it gets assurances from the West on the future of the Syrian regime and, most importantly, Russian military bases in Syria. On the other hand, the Israeli Prime Minister’s latest statements about Tel Aviv possessing secret files which reveal Iran’s covert pursuance of nuclear weapons away from international inspection means that Israel has put all its options on the table and might drag the US into its hard choices.
In the fourth and last scenario, disagreement between the US and the three European countries- Germany, Britain, and France- will continue on the future of the Iranian nuclear deal. This might lead to the extension of the period for reviewing the international agreement for another 120 days, to turn the disagreement into a path for negotiations. This scenario might suit all parties if negotiations reach a dead end. Nevertheless, the US might insist on closing this file completely without delay.

All in all, the first three scenarios would result in the Iranian nuclear deal being frozen and provoke several disagreements between the Iranian regime’s key figures. These internal disagreements would hinder the Iranian project in the region. The supporters of the nuclear deal in some Western think tanks might say that such as a development would strengthen what they call the Hard Line current in Iran at the expense of the Pragmatic or Reformer current represented by President Hassan Rouhani. However, from reality this plurality is groundless as all currents represent a small and narrow circle, which believes in the Supreme Leadership and in the Iranian expansionist project, as well as in exporting the Iranian revolution and protecting Shiites all over the world. Most importantly, if Tehran feels threatened, the Iranian regime might accept any solution supported by Russia and China to avoid any high-risk scenarios.

By Mohammed Alsulami, Head of Rasanah: International Institute for Iranian Studies

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