The coronavirus pandemic, which spread around the world only in the spring, among other things, dramatically slowed down the solution of the Iranian atomic problem. It is known to have been sharply exacerbated in 2018 by the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, a joint comprehensive action plan initiated by President Donald Trump.
Trump's demarche threatened (and still threatens) with a withdrawal from the treaty, which is usually called the "nuclear deal" and even the "deal of the century", as well as Iran. But in reality, this is not at all dangerous, especially since we are constantly talking about the conclusion of a new agreement.
The problem is that Iran has more and more incentives to refuse to participate in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons... In this regard, 2020 turned out to be perhaps the most difficult year without the coronavirus.
The leap year in Iran began with the assassination on January 3 of General Qasem Suleimani, commander of the Al-Quds special unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The murder, without any hesitation, was actually confessed in the United States. Moreover, Washington did not even consider it necessary to apologize, pretending that the national hero of Iran was simply at the wrong time and in the wrong place.
However, the missile attack on the airport in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, was certainly intended for a popular and highly influential general. After all, Suleimani was not only considered a real contender for the highest posts in Iran, he could become one of the leaders of the new regime, anti-American by definition.
After a protracted pandemic pause, another murder happened - no less loud and also significant. On November 27, the victim was nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who is called the creator of Iran's nuclear program.
He was shot in the north of the country on the way from Rostamkol to Absard with automatic weapons, most likely by remote control. The information that the weapon with which the scientist was killed was made in Israel is defiantly not commented there.
The very first of these killings immediately pushed the Iranian leadership into action. Already on January 6, it was announced that the country had abandoned the IAEA restrictions on the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. This was the last significant standard from the JCPOA that was abandoned in Iran.
Prior to that, as you know, Tehran made it known that they did not plan to strictly adhere to the quotas stipulated in the JCPOA on the amount of enriched uranium remaining in the country, as well as their intention to expand their missile program.
However, not only in the East it is rightly believed that
to say is not yet done.
The rather limited technical capabilities of Iran did not make it possible to change anything in reality, and the pandemic factor also prevented it. So far, according to IAEA observers, everything is limited to small "atomic activity" in two regions of the country.
Let us recall that this is not the first time that Iran has used something like a propaganda bluff, trying to bargain for the best conditions for itself either in the old or in the new nuclear deal. This was until 2015, when only the unified tough position of Russia and China helped to move the process from a dead center. This is the case now.
In addition, the election factor decisively interferes with the matter, and not only the American one. Everything changes there, one might say, in favor of keeping the deal,
"The best of his career"
according to Barack Obama, and
"Rotten in essence"
in the eyes of Donald Trump.
But other elections are on the horizon - in Iran. And the prospect of a radical Islamist coming to power instead of Hassan Rouhani is capable of breaking everything. He would not want to leave with nothing, for which he simply obliged to remember his "positive" dialogue with Barack Obama.
Return or return?
Despite everything, for a long time the situation with the nuclear deal was virtually frozen. There was only a slow drift of the US European partners in the deal, starting with the UK, towards a new treaty with Iran.
Although back in January, along with the British, both Germany and France declared their desire to preserve the deal at all costs. Tehran, which took an active part in the bailout agreements to limit OPEC + oil production, regularly remind that they are ready to return to the implementation of the JCPOA. But now they are setting three conditions.
The first is the lifting of sanctions, which, in fact, because of the pandemic and the very OPEC + deal, hardly work. The second is not just an acknowledgment of US responsibility for the murder of Qasem Soleimani, but also some kind of moral compensation. And finally, the third is the trial in the Fakhrizadeh case.
Of course, replacing the current JCPOA with some unknown new treaty is unprofitable, first of all, for Russia and China, which do not even want to slow down their nuclear projects. In addition, Russia is interested in the implementation of a mechanism for the return of surplus nuclear materials from Iran, which gives work to a number of enterprises in the industry.
At the same time, the Trump administration has repeatedly made it clear that they would like to minimize the participation in the agreements of both Russia and China. The new deal may take no less time than the JCPOA rejected by Washington, but they obviously would not mind limiting Iran's nuclear activity as much as possible for this time.
For this they twisted the hands of the European partners, making it clear that they were even ready to go to the introduction of a 25 percent duty on cars from the old continent. As they say in anecdotes -
"Well, this is already chaos."
According to the old patterns
The likelihood of a return to the old deal after Trump's defeat in the election has certainly increased, but not enough to immediately resume cooperation with Iran. This also applies to Russia and China and the European participants in the "nuclear deal".
By the beginning of 2020, they had already done a great job so that the withdrawal of the United States would not prevent them from continuing not only to trade with Iran, primarily oil, but also to implement nuclear programs.
These programs promise too great benefits to sacrifice for the sake of a dubious partnership with the United States or out of fear of their sanctions. The state of affairs here is in many ways similar to the situation around Nord Stream 2. Both here and there we are talking, rather, not about problems, but about costs.
However, the matter is significantly complicated by the fact that, unlike the global gas project, which has already entered the home stretch, the Iranian atom is almost an eternal business. Here, a momentary withdrawal from the sanctions of several ships and companies will not be enough.
Nevertheless, in Germany and France, as, indeed, in the UK, they made a serious bet on the launch of the INSTEX system for settlements with Iran. This trade support mechanism was created to restore deals with Iran, bypassing US extraterritorial sanctions.
However, Iran is not getting the opportunity to sell oil through this channel. OPEC + is allowed, INSTEX is not allowed. So far, the system allows only payments for medicines, food and other humanitarian products.
Recently, we managed to tighten up building materials, tools and everything related to medicine. But there have never been any real big deals. As a result, in fact, it is impossible to work according to old patterns, but there is no visible perspective for working on new ones.
Changing Don Trump to Joe Biden, whose participation in the "deal" was praised by his patron Barack Obama, could make a difference. The new American administration will either have to return the old deal, discarding the idea of "eliminating China and Russia," or simply returning to some zero point of the negotiation process.
Any other option would be a direct provocation of Iran to withdraw not only from the JCPOA, but also from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. And then the "domino effect" cannot be avoided, as it was after Pakistan and North Korea.
And the first chip to fall may well be Israel. It is no coincidence that, hinting, or rather directly speaking about the possibility of Iran's withdrawal from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, the politicians there do not hesitate to appeal to Israel's special position.
In Tehran, he is traditionally called a violator of all international treaties - just like the United States, by the way. However, even the Iranian press is trying to avoid too regular references to the fact that Tel Aviv (and now, it seems, Jerusalem) is behind Washington.
However, the radical Islamist opposition, not hiding its claims to power in Iran, is not ashamed of anything in this regard. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that even Islamists seriously expect to get evidence of the guilt of the Israeli special services in the two murders of 2020.
And even more so, to achieve something like satisfaction. We have to confine ourselves to the publication of spectacular maps, which indicate the ranges of Iranian missiles that easily reach Israeli territory.