Reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

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Context: Now that the four long years of Trump's administration came to an end, the United States is re looking to get back in its role as the global leader. The diplomacy of the United States and the other European nations will certainly get testified in this Iran nuclear deal which is commonly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Here, we will try and understand broadly why Iran signed the deal and what made it leave, and why now the world countries along with India are desperate in reviving the deal.

Mains: GS II- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.Important International institutions, agencies, and fora – their structure, mandate.

What was the iran nuclear deal? - INSIGHTSIAS

What is the Iran Nuclear Deal?

  • The Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is a landmark accord reached between Iran and several world powers, including the United States, in July 2015.
  • The JCPOA was the result of prolonged negotiations between 2013 and 2015 between Iran and P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, or the EU).
  • Under its terms, Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections in exchange for billions of dollars worth of sanctions relief.
  • Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years.
  • For the next 15 years, Iran will only enrich uranium up to 3.67%. Iran also agreed not to build any new heavy-water facilities for the same period of time.
  • Uranium-enrichment activities will be limited to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years. Other facilities will be converted to avoid proliferation risks.
  • To monitor and verify Iran's compliance with the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. The agreement provides that in return for verifiably abiding by its commitments, Iran will receive relief from the U.S., European Union, and United Nations Security Council nuclear-related sanctions.

Historical Perspective: Iran's Nuclear Program

  • Iranian development of nuclear technology began in the 1970s when the U.S. Atoms for Peace program began providing assistance to Iran, which was then led by the Shah.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is also known as Mohammad Reza Shah was the last Shah (King) of Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow in the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979. Due to his status as the last Shah of Iran, he is often known as simply the Shah.

  • Iran signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968 as a non-nuclear weapons state and ratified the NPT in 1970.
  • In 1979 the Iranian Revolution took place, and Iran's nuclear program, which had developed some baseline capacity, fell to disarray as “much of Iran's nuclear talent fled the country in the wake of the Revolution.

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons(NPT)

  • NPT is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.
  • Opened for signature in 1968, the treaty entered into force in 1970.
  • As of August 2016, 191 states have become parties to the treaty, though North Korea, which acceded in 1985 but never came into compliance, announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003, following the detonation of nuclear devices in violation of core obligations.
  • The treaty defines nuclear-weapon states as those that have built and tested a nuclear explosive device before 1 January 1967; these are the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
  • Four UN member states have never accepted the NPT, three of which possess or are thought to possess nuclear weapons: India, Israel, and Pakistan. In addition, South Sudan, founded in 2011, has not joined.
  • Furthermore, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was initially opposed to nuclear technology, and Iran engaged in a costly war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988.
  • In the late 1980s, Iran reinstated its nuclear program, with assistance from Pakistan (which entered into a bilateral agreement with Iran in 1992), China (which did the same in 1990), and Russia (which did the same in 1992 and 1995).
  • In June 2003, an IAEA report concluded that Iran had failed to meet its obligations under the safeguards agreement, and Iran, faced with the prospect of being referred to the UN Security Council, entered into diplomatic negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
  • In February 2006 Iran ended its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol and resumed enrichment, prompting the IAEA Board of Governors to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.
  • The agreement between the P5+1+EU and Iran on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is the culmination of 20 months of “arduous” negotiations.
  • Under this framework, Iran agreed tentatively to accept restrictions on its nuclear program, all of which would last for at least a decade and some longer, and to submit to an increased intensity of international inspections under a framework deal.
  • However, the deal has been in jeopardy since President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from it in 2018. 

Interregnum with Iran's Deal

  • The U.S. decision of moving away from the deal was criticized by all other parties to the JCPOA (including the European allies) because Iran was in compliance with its obligations, as certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  • Tensions rose as the U.S. pushed ahead with its unilateral sanctions, widening its scope to cover nearly all Iranian banks connected to the global financial system, industries related to metallurgy, energy, and shipping, individuals related to the defence, intelligence, and nuclear establishments.
  • For the first year after the U.S. withdrawal, Iran’s response was muted as the E-3 (France, Germany, the U.K.) and the EU promised to find ways to mitigate the U.S. decision.
  • The E-3’s promised relief Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), created in 2019 to facilitate limited trade with Iran.
  • However, by May 2019, Iran’s strategic patience ran out as the anticipated economic relief from the E-3/EU failed to materialize. As the sanctions began to hurt, Tehran shifted to a strategy of ‘maximum resistance’.

Iran’s Policy of ‘Maximum Resistance’

  • Beginning in May 2019, Iran began to move away from JCPOA’s constraints incrementally: exceeding the ceilings of 300kg on low-enriched uranium and 130 MT on heavy-water; raising enrichment levels from 3.67% to 4.5%.
  • In January 2020, following the drone strike on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Gen. Qasem Soleiman, Iran announced that it would no longer observe the JCPOA’s restraints.
  • The collapse of the JCPOA drags Iran towards nuclear brinkmanship, like North Korea, which has created major geopolitical instability in the region and beyond.

Roadblocks in Reviving of Iran's Deal

  • Regional Cold War Between Iran & Saudi Arabia:
    • Saudi Arabia is the cornerstone of US Middle East policy. The US has strengthened its relationship with Saudi Arabia, to act as a counterweight against Iran.
    • However, traditional Shia vs Sunni conflict precipitated into a regional cold war between Iran & Suadi Arabia.
    • Thus, a major challenge for the US to restore the nuclear deal is to maintain peace between the two regional rivals.
  • Iran's Nationalistic agenda: 
    • The challenge in resuming the agreement in its present form is that Iran is currently in violation of several of its important commitments, such as the limits on stockpiles of enriched uranium.
    • The International Atomic Energy Agency noted that Iran now had more than 2,440 kilograms, which is more than eight times the limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal.
    • Further, Iran says it wants the US to pay for the billions of dollars in economic losses it incurred when it pulled the United States out of the Iran deal in 2018 and reinstituted sanctions that it had lifted.

India's Interest in Reviving the Deal

Restoration of JCPOA may ease many restrictions over the Iranian regime, which may directly or indirectly help India. This can be reflected in the following examples:

  • Boost to Regional Connectivity
    • Removing sanctions may revive India’s interest in the Chabahar port, and other plans for regional connectivity. This would further help India to neutralize the Chinese presence in Gwadar port, Pakistan.
    • Apart from Chabahar, India’s interest in the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC), which runs through Iran, which will improve connectivity with five Central Asian republics, may also get a boost.
  • Energy Security:
    • India primarily imports oil from Iran, but has been hampered by restrictions placed by global powers. 
    • Iran is India’s third-largest supplier of crude oil after Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Indian companies explored and discovered oil and gas in Iran's Farzad B gas field in 2008.
    • They have already invested around $100m to develop the facility but production was stalled due to sanctions. Due to the pressure linked to the US’ Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), India has to bring down oil imports to zero.
    • Restoration of ties between the US and Iran will help India to procure cheap Iranian oil and aid in energy security.

Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)

  • CAATSA is United States federal law that imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia.
  • It includes sanctions against countries that engage in significant transactions with Russia's defence and intelligence sectors.



Reviving the deal is important not only to increase the trade relations with the middle east but also to ensure peace and stability. The Iran nuclear deal is a joint effort by several countries. Like Trump, Biden would like the deal to be a key part of his administration’s vision in the Middle East – but this might be tougher than it is anticipated. India as a responsible nuclear power can certainly facilitate the same.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

International Atomic Energy Agency Jobs - IAEA Jobs - GCF Jobs

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons.
  • The IAEA was established as an autonomous organization in 1957.
  • Though established independently of the United Nations through its own international treaty, IAEA reports to both the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.
  • The IAEA has its headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The IAEA has two “Regional Safeguards Offices” which are located in Toronto, Canada, and in Tokyo, Japan.
  • The IAEA serves as an intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology and nuclear power worldwide.
  • The IAEA has three main bodies: the Board of Governors, the General Conference, and the Secretariat.
  • In 2004, the IAEA developed a Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT). PACT responds to the needs of developing countries to establish, improve, or expand radiotherapy treatment programs. 
  • In 2005, it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work for a safe and peaceful world.
  • The IAEA has 172 member states. Four states have withdrawn from the IAEA they are  North Korea, Nicaragua, Honduras, Cambodia.
  • The IAEA, in line with its ‘Atoms for Peace and Development’ mandate, supports countries in their efforts to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 
  • The Additional Protocol of IAEA has under its purview only those facilities which are supervised by the IAEA and will have no impact on the non-safeguarded facilities which are used for creating weapons.
  • In order to bring more transparency to nuclear infrastructure, India has ratified an Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  • The ratification of the additional protocols will boost energy security and will enhance the decks for large imports of nuclear technology.  

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